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PIXAR RELEASES OVER A BAKER'S DOZEN OF TREATS
Blog, News and Events, Movies
Posted on Nov 21 2012 by Greg
Many of the Pixar principles of creativity have their roots in the concepts of Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and the people in their orbit. One of ways Walt was able to nurture talent, sustain characters, test new ideas and techniques, and generally keep the studio rolling, was to produce short films through the golden age until the '60s with occasional forays into later decades.

Pixar always does this, creating shorts to accompany their features and some of those released by Walt Disney Pictures, some for TV and others as special bonus material for home video releases. This is the second collection in the series and is a must-have for families and animation buffs alike.



For all ages and levels of interest, you get two excellent "Toy Story Toons" each of which are impressive considering how many characters they include in such a short time. There are also two "Cars Toons" starring Mater the tow truck -- one nodding to a future Pixar "Planes" series and another enhancing the back story of Radiator Springs, which ties in with the new Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park.

Three shorts present an aspect of their feature films' storylines from another point of view: BURN-E happens during WALL-E and Dug's Special Mission and George & A.J. occur during the course of UP. George & A.J., by the way, has the funniest audio commentary of all twelve -- in which a stentorian announcer relentlessly "oversells" the film.

All twelve films have commentaries (thank you!), many of them revealing how personal some of these films are to their creative staff. Partly Cloudy was inspired by the non-English speaking mother of its director (as well as Walt Disney's Dumbo). La Luna captures the  memories of the adults of its director's youth.

Personally, I think La Luna is the most beautiful of the films, with a breathtaking score -- reminiscent of that of Pinocchio -- by the amazing Michael Giacchino. (If only a soundtrack album of all these films was released!!)

Presto boasts the most classic treatment of the films, in that it has the wild humor and frenetic timing of the best Warner, MGM and Disney cartoon shorts. And My Friend, the Rat, which opens the set, is especially delightful for those of us who enjoyed the Disney factual animation/live action films, most directed by Ward Kimball. The design and the music are spot on. These creative people know their material and clearly love it.

Another wondrous extra are seven student films by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, fun to watch but also fascinating while considering what magnificent futures would lie before these three icons -- and some likely roots of their subsequent films. You can also see how their sense of childlike wonder had not been beaten out of them by "too cool" peers or bitter adults.

Says Lasseter, with a chuckle, of his student days: "I was a bit of a procrastinator. The hardest part of making these films was getting them done, 'cause I would wait way too long to start my project! It's interesting now, having five sons. I go to them, 'I was a procrastinator.  Please don't be a procrastinator in your life!"

And for those who have DVD but not Blu-Ray, you still get the extra films -- and the commentaries on the DVD disc.







MORE GOLDEN GOODIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Blog, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Nov 19 2012 by Greg
One of the nicest things about the holidays is that music is allowed to have the variety it had when I was growing up. You have rock, blues, jazz, easy listening, you name it, all playing together in the form of various artists enjoying their spin on either favorite holiday carols, well known songs or original tunes. Musically, during the holidays, when something is "retro," that means it's "cool," to paraphrase Wreck-It Ralph.



That's the glorious appeal of the new CD, A Very Merry Golden Records Christmas. The folks at Verse Music, with the input of Tony Shimkin, son of Golden Records founder Arthur Shimkin, crafted a collection that spans over two decades of the 20th century yet has its feet planted firmly in the 21st.

Like those great Columbia, RCA and Capitol holiday albums many of us collected at Goodyear, True Value Hardware, Grants and other retailers, A Very Merry Golden Records Christmas features celebrity performers, many of whom may startle you with their versatility. Vintage Golden tracks have been lovingly restored, their charm given a modern touch with such names as Cheryl Hines, John O'Hurley, Missy Pyle and even Dermot Mulroney (who sounds somewhat like Eddy Arnold). For the younger set, Didi Conn chirps songs that were once sung by the likes of Captain Kangaroo and Anne Lloyd.

Speaking of the Captain, his sidekick Mister Greenjeans (Lumpy Brannum) returns in one of several unchanged (yet enhanced) recordings, "Crackerjack Christmas," a tune I remember seeing him lipsync on the CBS show.

Four stories, three from Golden Books, are presented with fully orchestrated backgrounds by Hines, Busy Philipps and Ed Asner. In addition, a marvelous musical version of A Christmas Carol, originally told by Howdy Doody and later, the aforementioned Captain, is now told in "Toy Story's Rex" style by his voice, Wallace Shawn.

Two additional albums of completely restored Golden Records selections, with such vintage artists as Mitch Miller, The Sandpipers, Anne Lloyd, Art Carney and others, are available as Timeless Golden Records, Volumes 1 & 2.









DISNEY FAIRIES MEETS "THE PATTY DUKE SHOW"
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on Nov 06 2012 by Greg
Meet Tinker Bell who flies everywhere
Her land is warm, her weather's fair
But Peri's only seen the sights
Of winter days and winter nights
What a crazy pair!
But they're fairies, identical fairies all the way
One pair of sprightly pixies, different as night and day!

While Peri adores to pirouette
On landscapes cold as they can get
Our Tink just seems to have goal
Of making Vidia lose control
What a wild duet!

But they're fairies, identical fairies and you'll find
Their wings get sparkly rays alike, they even disobey alike
You could lose your mind
When fairies are two of a kind!




Tinker Bell: The Secret of the Wings
, the first Disney Fairies feature to actually be released near the actual season in which it takes place, is a sweeping epic in which Tink discovers she has a twin sister, Periwinkle. Peri lives in a frosty world ruled by former James Bond Timothy Dalton (who also voiced Mr. Pricklypants in Toy Story 3). Naturally, the twins spend too much time in their respective other lands and adventures ensue.

It's a beautifully rendered production, really an art direction triumph. And in Blu-ray, it's especially stunning to see. The songs are by the talented husband and wife duo Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn, who also recently scored a musical version of Toy Story for Disney Cruise Line and have a series of inventive original musicals created for their band, Groovelily.

The teen angle has been ramped up in this film, with the addition of more "hunky" sprites, almost to the point of being unintentionally humorous, as in one final moment in which a young guy struts onto the scene and says, "Hey. I'm Sled."

Vigoda and Milburn also wrote songs for Pixie Hollow Games, a 30-minute TV special relegated to bonus features status on this package. What it might lack in budget compared to the more lavish Wings feature, it makes up for in charm and character development.

Pixie Hollow Games focuses on two fairies: Rosetta, voiced to perfection by Megan Hilty, and newcomer Chloe, played by Brenda Song (of Zack & Cody and The Social Network). Rosetta may be a garden fairy, but she's a tootsie-toes with more than a touch of OCD. Chloe's atheticism makes the two of them an "Odd Couple" and thus fodder for a very entertaining, fast moving and fun little show.

The extras are not elaborate, not even on a promotional level, when compared to earlier Tinker Bell releases. Wings is nice, but Great Fairy Rescue is still, to me, the best of the four features so far.







WHAT'S THAT BUCKY? YOU'VE BEEN CAPTURED? WHERE? IN THE WELL?
Blog, TV
Posted on Oct 26 2012 by Greg
Actually, Bucky is an animated ship and does not talk, much less bark in astonishing code language, but the truth is that Bucky is taken by Captain Hook from Jake and the Never Land Pirates in the new DVD, Jake Saves Bucky. It's especially notable for the re-appearance of Peter Pan to help in the rescue. This is a three-segment story edited together as a "Full Length Adventure."



Rounding out the DVD disc are eight segments, two of which make up a standard Disney Junior half hour show
:

-  Peter's Musical Pipes
- The Never Night Star
- Captain Hook's Hooks
- Mr Smee's Pet
- Race Around Rock!
- Captain Hook is Missing! (he's not in the well, either)
- Captain Hook's Lagoon
- Undersea Bucky

Designed for the preschooler, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is much like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Dora the Explorer, as the characters often ask the viewers to help out, and in this case, earn onscreen coins as rewards.


Each story is very musical and is followed by a live action pirate duo named "Bones and Sharky" singing an original song over the credits.

Modern Family fans take note: the voice of the mermaid in the last episode, "Undersea Bucky!", is Ariel Winter, who plays Alex Dunphy on the award winning TV sitcom (which is really not for preschoolers).

The new DVD also includes a digital download copy so you can load it onto a portable device to keep the kids amused on the go. Select DVD packages might also include an inflatable play sword.







I SAW A DRAGON ON BLU-RAY... BUT NOT ALL THE FEATURES
Blog, Movies
Posted on Oct 22 2012 by Greg
1977's Pete's Dragon was the last musical fantasy produced entirely within the Disney studio system. Two years later, The Black Hole would not perform well enough a the box office to sustain movies made within the studio and outside production companies were brought in, much in the way all of Hollywood did.

The film is a time capsule of Walt Disney Productions in the '70's, with its distinctive house style. Even the sound quality is unique to the period.

Familiar actors round out the cast, led by pop singer Helen Reddy, whose understated, matter-of-fact performance seems to play better today than it may have seemed to some in the past. Harry Potter and Broadway fans will enjoy the vitality and versatility of the great Jim Dale, who won a Tony as Barnum after this movie (a very similar role indeed) and narrated the American audio versions of the Potter books.

Ambitious as Pete's Dragon was, it owed more to the wacky special effects comedies of its day than its two musical predecessors, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins.

It's closest relation to the other two films is the musical direction led by Oscar winner Irwin Kostal, who returned to Disney for Pete's Dragon and again to re-score a digital version of Fantasia and the short cartoon, The Small One. Like Mary Poppins, Pete's Dragon opens with on very a magical-sounding string section, rising before the title.

Elliot the dragon took on a life of his own in the Disney Theme Parks as one of the favorite floats in the Main Street Electrical Parade. Surely there are those who think he originated in the parade and don't know the movie!

But Pete's Dragon is one of those enjoyable Disney staples that every family should enjoy together. If you haven't got a copy yet, now is the time. And if you want to see it as sharply and colorfully as possible, you'll want the "35th Anniversary Edition" Blu-ray.



The clarity may betray some of the period's special effects and matte shots, but you can see every speck of the once-grand Disney backlot and the lovely Golden Oak Ranch. The filmmakers really did a marvelous job at sustaining the feeling that this took place in a coastal Maine town, when in reality even the ocean was a trench of water augmented by matte paintings and inventive angles.

Please note, though, that the previously released 2009 "High Flying Edition" of Pete's Dragon had several bonus features that are missing on this new release.

2009 High Flying Edition Bonus Features:
- Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic
- Deleted Storyboard Sequence: Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliott
- Original Song Concept: Bo Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)
- Original Demo Recordings: "Brazzle Dazzle Day" (alternate
  song); "Every Little Piece" (alternate melody); "The Greatest
  Star of All" (deleted song for deleted character) - Promotional
  Record (Pop versions of the songs from a 7" record: It's Not
  Easy, Brazzle Dazzle Day, There's Room for Everyone,
  Candle on the Water
- Where's Elliott? Disappearing Dragon Game
- Pete's Dragon Art Galleries (Concept Art, Behind the Sccnes,
  Publicity)
- Trailers
- About Pete's Dragon (text)
- Disney Family Album excerpt: Ken Anderson
- The Plausible Impossible excerpt (dragons, dinosaurs,
  mythology)
- Donald Duck cartoon: Lighthouse Keeping

2010 "35th Anniversary Edition" DVD Bonus Features (both Blu-ray & DVD):
- Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic
- Deleted Storyboard Sequence: Terminus & Hoagy Hunt Elliott
- Original Song Concept: Bo Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too)
- Trailers

A few more notes from my 2009 review of the "High Flying Edition":

"Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic"  makes it easier to understand that sodium screen process so often used in Disney films of the period -- a kind of yellow light behind the subject that somehow vanishes and allows two images to be combined. Maybe that yellow sheen is the reason that you could always spot a seam along the two separate images -- a problem solved by today's digital technology.

I'm keeping both versions, especially because of those musical extras. There are a selection of demo recordings and a handful of Kids of the Kingdom-style "pop versions" of the songs I had not heard before. "Brazzle Dazzle Day" had a different melody with mostly different lyrics. "Every Little Piece" had the same lyrics with an "If I Were a Rich Man"-like melody.  "it's Not Easy" had alternate lyrics that transformed it into a romantic love song. And there's even a deleted song called "The Greatest Star of All," clearly intended for Jim Dale's character, Terminus. These alone make the new DVD worth getting.

One feature that only appeared on the 2001 "Gold" DVD edition is the 25-minute 1973 live-action/animated documentary Man, Monsters and Mysteries, narrated by Sebastian Cabot with Sterling Holloway voicing the Loch Ness Monster (aka "Nessie").










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