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BOOK REVIEW: "Sleigh Rides, Jingle Bells and Silent Nights"
Blog, Music, Books
Posted on Dec 15 2013 by Greg


TThis book is scholarly without being in the weeds and provides an intelligent examination of how Christmas evolved through its pop culture and musical progression. It certainly goes into an analytical depth that other books of this kind do not. Which is why there is a hole in it through which you could drive a truck.

I realize that the throwaway mention of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a TV special is within the context of a treatise of the American family and yes, Santa and Rudolph's dad are negatively depicted. But what is astonishingly ignored is that it is the single longest running network special in TV history and has much more to it thematically. How could one overlook that Johnny Marks wrote eight additional songs for the special -- one of which, "Holly Jolly Christmas" is also a standard?

The author mentions the often deleted verse of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," yet overlooks the verse as it was written for the TV special based on that song. There's discussion of how the lyrics for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were changed for Judy Garland. Shouldn't special lyrics for Fred Astaire also be mentioned?

How can one write a book about some of the greatest songs ever written yet briefly and arbitrarily dismiss the films they inspired -- particularly the musical aspects of these films? As an author, I know there are only so many pages in a work. However, one can limit extensive descriptions in one area to allow space for another.

No book can contain every song and that's why there are often follow up volumes. But the songs that are included should have benefited from having their cultural context more fully delineated by acknowledging the major and highly ubiquitous Rankin/Bass productions in which they still are seen and heard. We're talking generations of viewers (and listeners to their musical soundtracks) on TV, records and home video. More than a passing glance is needed.



This book really is well-written and it stacks up well against other books on the subject -- but because it aims a little higher, the omission becomes more glaring.







BOOK REVIEW: "Must Kill TV" by Emmy winner Ken Levine
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Dec 12 2013 by Greg
Only a seasoned TV pro could have dreamed up this deliciously scathing dark comic journey through the labyrinth of the TV biz.

Ken Levine draws upon untold thousands of real-life jaw dropping moments he has encountered in the social, business and creative arenas of TV, and delivers a crisp satirical thriller that, while it may suggest other works along the same lines, is a fresh creation in itself.

The lead protagonist, over-promoted TV executive Charles Muncie, is not so much a character with whom the reader identifies as a set of eyes through which we peek behind the scenes and in the boudoir, where characters may not be what they seem and twists are as serpentine as they can really be in the creative and corporate world. Wait until you read how the sitcom -- upon which Charles' biggest success and his biggest moral dilemma -- got on the schedule. Let's put it this way. He took the credit -- and that's not a spoiler if you know work politics.

I could not help casting this story in my head as I read it. That was part of the fun. Levine's expertise in building characters and putting them into situations that are at once dark and yet very funny is a hallmark of his experience working on such shows as M*A*S*H, Frasier, Cheers, and the underappreciated Almost Perfect -- which gets a nod in the book, as "Blue Justice" was also the fictional TV show within that show.



Saying too much would spoil the fun and surprises of Must Kill TV. Suffice to say that I did not quite guess the "Oh NO!" moment at the heart of the book's denouement. But that's not even as much of a strange surprise as the fates that ultimately befall the major characters.

I read Ken Levine's blog every day, and based on what he has told readers about his real-life experiences, not EVERYONE in network TV is like this, nor are all the "non-pros." Just some.

Maybe a little more than just some.






2013 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE, PART ONE
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People, Music, Downloads, Records, Books
Posted on Dec 02 2013 by Greg

BLU-RAY/DVD


THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA / THE LITTLE MERMAID: ARIEL’S BEGINNING
Both sequels are on Blu-ray for the first time, along with two DVDs with each film. The first sequel, Return to the Sea, boasts many of the same cast members as the original film including Disney Legend Jodi Benson, but the nice songs by Patti and Michael Silversher are too few and the plot is a retread of the first story. This time we get a skinny version of Ursula and Disney’s version of Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley. Plus, Ariel and Eric are put in a situation very frustrating to the viewers as well as their daughter, Melody, but being brick walls about everything to do with Ariel’s magical past. Plus, in limited animation, Eric looks even more like the David Seville of the ‘80s.



The third Little Mermaid film (second on this set), Ariel’s Beginning, is a far superior film with a more solid storyline without delving into set pieces to extend the film length. We also get to know Ariel’s sisters better and meet a more original villain, amusingly named Marina Del Ray and superbly voiced by Sally Field, singing for the first time since The Flying Nun. Even the extras are better on this film. The animation is startlingly fluid for a direct to video production. Make the whole package worth it.


PLANES
Disney has taken a few jabs for putting what was originally planned as a direct to video feature and releasing to theaters, but Walt Disney did just that with Johnny Tremain and several other of his live-action features which either turned out better than expected or ran over budget.



In the case of Planes, the budget was upped and though the film seems to dreamily ramble a bit, it was clearly an attempt to attract more of the male sector of the audience and it succeeded tremendously. I’m not a big Dane Cook fan, but he does a creditable job as Dusty, a crop duster with a fear of heights, a character much more likable than Lightning McQueen in Cars. John Cleese turns in his usual scene stealing best as a jolly old British plane. Looks wonderful in HD on a big screen.


THE FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS COLLECTION

It's nice to have these shows on DVD after wearing out my VHS tapes, which sometimes were recorded at EP and looked ecch. The 1977 A Flintstone Christmas special is of particular interest, coming at a time with The Flintstones and Hanna-Barbera were enjoying a resurgence in popularity.



It's also a musical special with songs that also popped up in other H-B Christmas specials. "Hope," sung by Wilma in this instance, is a cousin to "When You Wish Upon a Star" and was sung by Boo-Boo in Yogi's First Christmas. "Brand New Kind of Christmas Song" did originate in this special. Both this song and Boo-Boo's "Hope" can be heard on the Hanna-Barbera Christmas Sing Along sound track album.


The second special on this collection, A Flintstone Family Christmas, came after Turner acquired Hanna-Barbera and there was another resurgence with new merchandise and some really fine books, including a hardcover based on this special, which was nominated for an Emmy, a first for The Flintstones.


MARINE BOY – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Depending on where you lived, this dubbed Japanese cartoon series ran in syndication between 1967 and 1969. What’s interesting about it is that members of the Speed Racer cast does the dubbing, including Speed himself, Peter Fernandez. The music sounds to me to be composed by Billy Mure, who scored many MGM children’s records with Fernandez and the same cast.



“Marine Boy” is sort like “Jonny Quest” underwater. For some reason, even his dad calls him “Marine Boy.” But then, did Speed's parents give him that name at birth? Guess both were endearing nicknames.


The stories in Marine Boy are not as complex as some Japanese TV cartoon imports of the era, so younger kids will likely follow along nicely. The animation looks to me to be that Korean traced stuff that Warner/Seven Arts did with Porky Pig cartoons, though a little neater. I can’t confirm that as a fact, though. It’s just that the draftsmanship is not what I’ve seen in similar cartoons. But what a groovy theme song! There are actually two of them, and I like the one with the “oooooo’s.”


CDS AND DOWNLOADS


WALT DISNEY’S BABES IN TOYLAND – Original Cast Album
This is from the 1961 live action fantasy starring Annette, Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn and a very young Ann Jillian. It’s not the sound track but a “re-creation” with slightly different orchestrations, produced at Tutti Camarata’s Sunset Sound Studios.



It is not available on CD (though the Disney Parks did offer CD-R’s for a short time years ago). You can download it—with a pristine restoration by Walt Disney Records’ master producer, Randy Thorton—on iTunes.


SANTA CLAUS-THE MOVIE Original Sound Track Album
Though I love the movie and enjoyed it when it was released, not everyone does. Regardless, the magnificent score by Henry Mancini is one of the best “traditional” music and song scores of the ‘80s, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and a pop solo by Sheena Easton (“It’s Christmas All Over the World”) that should get more airplay.



Be careful when ordering this album on CD, as you’ll want the expanded edition, not the single album on CD. The expanded edition has everything the original EMI LP had plus many more pieces of music that couldn’t fit on the vinyl disc as well as alternates and deleted selections and an interesting booklet.


MARY POPPINS Special Edition Original Sound Track Album
You know that tape recorder you see taking in what happened during those meetings with the persnickety Ms. Travers and the supercalifragilistic Shermans? You can hear many of the REAL ones on disc two of this glorious sound track album.



The aforementioned Randy Thornton pretty much put the entire musical score on this album for the first time and it should be in every home.


THE SHERMAN BROTHERS SONGBOOK



Speaking of the Shermans, the landmark songs from their history making career are contained on two discs here. There's even a non-Disney film represented in this collection, with the Oscar-nominated theme from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was tthe brothers’ first outside film, done with the approval of Disney. On this collection, the great Mike Sammes Singers perform the song. Every home should have this, too.


BOOKS


JIM HENSON – THE BIOGRAPHY
A meticulously detailed portrait of the man behind the Muppets, unlike anything published before. Lengthy yet a brisk read, the book covers the length and breadth of Henson’s life and career in a matter-of-fact, clear headed way, without the armchair speculative psychology of other bios of others (you know which ones).



Few will read this and say, “I already knew ALL of that” or they’d be fibbing.

 

INSIDE THE WHIMSY-WORKS: My Life with Walt Disney Productions
Disney Legend Jimmy Johnson rose from the mailroom to merchandise and from publishing to launching what is now Walt Disney Records. He wrote this memoir in 1975 but it was never published until now.



This is one of the very first insider looks at what is was like working for Disney from the Snow White days to the opening of Walt Disney World. I know this is a blatant plug and you have to pre-order the book because it won’t be sent out until February 2014, but please consider getting a copy and wrapping up the amazon description as a lovely thing to place under the tree.








DVD REVIEW: Jake and the Never Land Pirates: "Jake’s Never Land Rescue”
Blog, TV
Posted on Nov 22 2013 by Greg




This special edition of the popular Disney Junior series, the equivalent of four individual stories on the daily show, marks the first appearance of Tinker Bell in this particular Peter Pan “universe.”


It begins as Jake joins his crew on the beach; where they’ve set up a picnic—of healthy, nutritious foods—and objects start disappearing. Jake learns that he alone must go on a quest to find the Forever Tree and get the Destiny Sword from Destiny Mountain.


The storyline is secondary to the fact that, all the while, Jake is helped by the “Guardian of Never Land,” whose disguise only obscures him partially, making it pretty easy for little ones to figure out who it really is.


I just realized that this series’ interactive aspect, in young viewers are asked to participate as they watch, actually can be traced back to the famous scene J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 play, when theater audiences were asked to clap to save Tinker Bell. So Dora and Blue’s Clues did not do it first! As far as I can remember, though, the idea that pixie dust stops working when it gets wet seems to have been invented for this series in order to give Captain Hook more ways to lose out in his schemes.


In addition to the extras on the DVD disc listed below, there’s a keen inflatable Sword of Destiny inside the package. This is very much like a toy I loved as a kid called “Blimps.” These were yellow plastic animal shapes that came in a cube with crayons and a straw. You could color the animals and use the straw to blow them up and play with them—the erase the crayons with a cloth. This sword has a little straw just like Blimps, only there are little stickers for decoration, which can be peeled off. So it’s the toy that keeps on giving! Nice.


“Jake and the Never Land Rescue” Credits
Director: Howy Parkins. Producer/Story Editor/Writer: Mark Seidenberg. Music and Original Songs: Kevin Hendrickson, Loren Hoskins. Executive Producer: Rob Laduca. Developed for TV by Bobs Gannaway. Running Time: 51 minutes.


Voices: Cameron Boyce (Jake); Madison Pettis (Izzy); Jonathan Morgan Hunt (Cubby); Adam Wylie (Peter Pan; Corey Burton (Captain Hook); Jeff Bennett (Mr. Smee, Bones); David Arquette (Skully); Loren Hoskins (Sharky, Sandy); Dee Bradley Baker (Golden Squid, Lizard, Dolphin); Ariel Winter (Marina); Allisyn Ashley Arm (Stormy).
Live Performers: Kevin Hendrickson and Loren Hoskins (Captain Bogg, Salty)


Songs: “Jake and the Never Land Pirates Theme,” “We Can Rescue Never Land,” “Never Land Waits for You,” “I’ll Never Give Up On Neverland,” “Never Land Waits for You,” “Beyond the Never Sea,” “Pirate Island Hideout.”


 

8 Additional Episodes (12 minutes each):
• It’s a Pirate Picnic!
• The Key to Skull Rock
• The Golden Twilight Treasure!
• Rock the Croc
• Jake and the Sneaky LeBeak!
• Cubby the Brave!
• Jake’s Special Delivery
• Seahorse Saddle-Up!


Bonus Features: 8 “Playing With Skully” Shorts (1 ½ minutes each)
• Sailing the Never Sea
• Where’s Sandy?
• Pulley Hook
• North Bound
• Diving in the Coral Reef
• Ship Ahoy!
• Pirate Puzzle
• Coconuts on Pirate Island








The essence of creativity... the true Disney difference
Blog, News and Events, People
Posted on Nov 20 2013 by Greg



To honor the memory of Diane Disney Miller -- and the memory she sought to define and sustain of her father -- please listen to this song about creativity and why you go the extra mile, get passionate about an idea and keep trying, while others don't always understand because they see no concrete gain.

"Why have that extra detail, or clever line, or different way to approach this? Why would you throw so much effort into something with no visible gain?"

Yes, show business is a business and you have to feed, clothe and shelter your "child." It's a reality to be not only faced but understood as necessary. But you also have to love that child. And loving means giving, even for no reason except...

"Because," that's why. This song says it so beautifully.









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