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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.







DVD Review: Here's Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection
Blog, TV
Posted on Nov 19 2013 by Greg



It’s exciting to be able to see an entire TV series for the first time in decades, especially one with such a rich entertainment history behind it.


The series was never, ever able to be seen anywhere after its original airing, as the episodes were stored in a vault until Edie Adams’ son Josh lovingly put them together—along with lots of choice extras—on this 4-DVD treasure trove.


The guest list alone is staggering: Sammy Davis, Jr., Bobby Darin, Peter Falk, Sir Michael Redgrave, Don Rickles, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sid Caesar, Nancy Wilson, Al Hirt, Bob Hope, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Louie Nye, Soupy Sales, Spike Jones, Buddy Hackett, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and several visits with up-and-coming comedians like Dick Martin, Dan Rowan, Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill. A roster of this level makes the show like The Ed Sullivan Show without the spinning plates.


But Here’s Edie, or later, The Edie Adams Show, is as different from variety shows of its day as Kovacs’ shows were from comedy shows. First of all, Adams had complete control of the show, rare for many performers, especially females, in those days. So every episode is a personal reflection of the artist herself: a classically trained soprano who had a grasp of popular entertainment as well as an acute intelligence, sensitivity and eclectic sense she was eager to present.



When Here’s Edie was broadcast from April 1963 to March 1964, audiences and industry insiders knew the headlines about her situation well. Kovacs’ passing left behind a labyrinth of debt. Live concerts and this series were literally Adams’ most visible means of support and recovery. Her devotion to Kovacs is evident in the occasional use of blackouts, which were still unusual until the dawn of Laugh-In.


The feeling we’re about to see something unusual is evident from the first moments. Adams, in silhouette, trills her Kurt Weill theme music a la the Star Trek theme (in the next season the show would open with the same trill but the visual becomes the more familiar caricature that some may remember from Adam’s chain of salons).


I wish there would have been more information about some of the regulars who appear. Don Chastain, who played the husband on the short lived Debbie Reynolds Show, sometimes is mentioned as a guest. Speaking of Chastain, he flubs the lyrics to “Put On a Happy Face” and it stayed in the show—a lost charm of early television that humanizes the performers and draws them into the show. Adams often pauses before her cues and sometimes seems uncomfortable in the comedy sketches—but not in the ones that were part of her very popular nightclub act and any others in which she could disappear into character.




It’s to Adams' credit that she didn’t overpolish the shows. Time and budget was a factor, surely, but the audience of the early ‘60s was rooting for her all the way. “I decided that there wouldn’t be much comedy in my television shows because I still wasn’t feeling very funny,” Adams wrote in her autobiography, Sing a Pretty Song. “I was afraid to do comedy unless I had a comic editor nearby, and Ernie has always done that for me.”


Among the many standout segments in the series include a moody filmed New York segment set to the song “Lonely Town;” the marvelous London location sequences, particularly a haunting scene in which Adams sings in front of a bombed-out block of buildings; and a rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” told with a series of stills showing a day in the life of the singing star (even the unglamorous parts).


If you have a problem with smoking, close your eyes, cover your ears and hum Adams’ theme song during the Muriel/Dutch Masters cigar commercials, one of them featuring a young Conrad Bain.

The Here’s Edie DVD set captures a dazzling period of show business over which a curtain was drawn, almost to the day of the last show. The Beatles had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show a month earlier and the youth movement would change entertainment markedly.


Coincidentally, Here’s Edie/The Edie Adams Show begins and ends with comedy bits poking fun at rock and roll: in the first episode, comic Dick Shawn lampoons a rock singer of the period and in the last show, Adams and her guests lampoon the mop-topped Beatles. So many thought that this new music was a passing fad, and these sketches are examples. Of course, history would prove otherwise.








DVD Review: OLIVER! from Twilight Time
Blog, Movies
Posted on Nov 16 2013 by Greg



Oliver! is one of the last of the internationally successful family musical extravaganzas of the ‘60s. After Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music became such megahits (both as movies and as sound track albums), a parade of expensive, episodic movie spectaculars hit theater screens (most at higher, reserved seat ticket prices) that usually had intermissions and very long running times.


Most were financial disappointments (Hello Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle), some did very respectable business (My Fair Lady, Funny Girl) and others gained respect and admiration over the years (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Finian’s Rainbow).


But Oliver!, which had already become a Broadway and West End hit (and has since entered the canon of much-revived classics), made the very difficult transition from stage to screen. Dickens is a font of infinitely filmable stories anyway, but musicals based on stage hits did not always survive the adaptation. Oliver! succeeded beyond many of its kind.


If you like Harry Potter, Oliver! offers a rags-to-riches twist on a similarly British series of contrasting existences. It’s like Annie (or rather Annie is like it), but with bigger and more stringent messages of compassion and cruelty, haves and have-nots, cold-blooded evil and sacrificial love.


The duality of the film is exemplified most visually in its two gigantic ensemble production numbers: “Consider Yourself” and “Who Will Buy?” The former turns the poor working class labor districts of Victorian London into a kid’s playground through Oliver’s eyes. The latter is the flip side of the economic coin, without the hypocrisy of the workhouse governors and instead with the elation of a new day in a setting that suggests, again to a naïve young boy, how joyous life can be. Both are almost overwhelming in their sheer size—few if any musicals had so many musical performers onscreen at once since Busby Berkeley.


Put all this into the context of the turbulent release year of 1968 and it should come as no surprise as to why it resounded so strongly with the public, the critics and the Motion Picture Academywinning six Oscars including Best Picture. Dickens’s work railed at the injustices of society, especially the effect it had on children, but it also had humor and colorful characters.


The world of the late ‘60s saw war and unrest, yet at the same time, mod designs and wacky Laugh-In escapism. Oliver! managed to thrive within the “new Hollywood” sensibility in the idiom of the traditional popcorn-cruncher. To today’s viewers, with today’s social and economic issues (as well as the international fascination with the temporally distant yet relatable world of Downton Abbey), Oliver has lost none of its relevance.


Stylistically it’s as meticulous as the film version of West Side Story in managing to give even the grittiness a Technicolor glow. The slums have the same narrowing, “closing in” feel as the tenements where Tony and Maria sang “Tonight.”



Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is pure gold for all the above reasons and more. I’ve never seen the film's details, especially on a home screen, as on this new disc. Even in 1968, you most likely would have had to see Oliver! in a reserved-seat theater with a great widescreen print, properly projected, to see all this detail, and even that's debatable. While there is still a bit of flicker in the image on occasion, especially in the lighter scenes, I love being able to make out every square inch as much as possible.


But the real gift is in having the isolated sound track music. Oliver! had a fine, lengthy sound track album originally on Colgems Records (label of The Monkees and The Flying Nun). When RCA remastered it a decade or so later, the reverb was removed and it sounded better.


But it never had the space to fit all the music from the film, so you lost most of the opening music and parts of songs like “Oom Pah Pah” and “I’d Do Anything.” It has not proven economically feasible, at least in the near future, for a record company to release an expanded sound track album (though I keep wishing). However,  having the entire score to enjoy on this Blu-ray (even though it was not possible to find the tracks without sound effects), is a glorious thing indeed.


I was about the same age as the onscreen Oliver when I first saw this movie. We were already singing the songs in grade school and I had memorized the sound track album. Jack Wild was a star among kids who watched him on H.R. Pufnstuf each Saturday morning. The film had a profound impact on me: the immensity, the epic story, the comedy and drama, and the devastating last reel in which the film becomes like a Hitchcock crime thriller.


Being able to share the movie with my kids was among the wonderful moments in my life. It’s best to wait until the children are out of the early school years so they can handle the sorrows and the joys of the story, as well as being old enough to discuss the social setting, the wry humor, how much things have changed—and how little has changed in some ways, too.


Bonus Features:
• Isolated Score Track
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Meeting Oliver!
• Meeting Fagin!
• 8 Sing-alongs
• 3 Dance Instructions
• 3 Dance & Sing-alongs
• Original Theatrical Trailer










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