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Blog, TV, People, Music, Records
Posted on Jun 29 2012 by Greg
Some folks who remember Don Grady as Robbie Douglas, the teen-turned young husband on the long running TV sitcom My Three Sons, may not also know that he was one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers, joining the series later in its run under his real name, Don Agrati.

With his untimely passing this week, he not only leaves behind two iconic TV personas, but also an extraordinary music career that in sheer volume and scope, eclipses his onscreen work.

Don Grady was part of Yellow Balloon, a feel-good late '60s pop group at the same time as he was still performing on My Three Sons. He has written numerous scores for stage, TV and video (including a lot of Disney video bonus materials and games) and an acclaimed Las Vegas show called EFX.

The items most overlooked in his various obits are some Disney albums that literally millions of families have listened to for years: Disney Princess Tea Party and, ever more notably, Disney's Princess Christmas Album.

Both albums feature the magnificent voices of such greats as Lea Salonga, Paige O'Hara, Judy Kuhn and Jodi Benson -- plus arrangements, production and original compositions by Don Grady. These albums will never really become dated and will surely be reissued in one form or another for untold generations. We can never know how many scores of children will be delighted by this fine work.

That's a mighty impressive legacy.

Blog, TV
Posted on Jun 21 2012 by Greg
If you've never watched, the Disney Channel animated hit Phineas and Ferb, you're missing some inspired cartoon fun, expertly dished up. Speaking analytically, each half hour show generally consists of two story self-contained segments, each with two or more original (and very eclectic) songs.

Each segment has at least three story angles: brothers Phineas and Ferb come up with a very elaborate idea/enterprise/invention and their sister, Candace, is the "Mrs. Kravitz" who tries to expose them, while at the same time their pet playtpus, Perry, gets a mission to save the world in his secret identity as "Agent P" to thwart evil but feeble Dr. Hans Doofensmirtz's plan to conquer the world (and/or the tri-state area).

That's a lot to get into a short cartoon, but with the kind of wit, savvy and pacing that made Rocky and Bullwinkle a classic, the creative team does it amazingly well -- tying the subplots together in either cleverly surprising or knowingly coincidental way.

The new DVD, The Perry Files, is a collection of seven show episodes -- so fourteen individual cartoons in all -- that best showcase the adventures of Agent P. My favorite is called "Misperceived Monotreme," which is highlighted by a Yellow Submarine-like surreal sequence with more inventive touches than some TV shows have in an entire season.

I would have liked another fun documentary or a commentary in the bonus features, but there is a nice "Tour Inside the Playbus" and a collection of clips called "Nerves of Teal."

Inside the DVD package is a neat little "Activity Pack" containing character stickers with a background scene, a postcard, a "find the clues" card, mood magnets and even a 48-piece mini jigsaw puzzle! There's also a digital copy so you can watch on your mobile device.

Blog, News and Events, Movies, Parks
Posted on Jun 20 2012 by Greg

If you're a fan of the beloved 1963 Hayley Mills / Burl ives movie -- and happen to be in the Morristown, Tennessee area this weekend (it's an hour's drive north of Knoxville) -- you might get to experience the world's first musical stage adaptation of Walt Disney's Summer Magic: Flittering from Film to Footlights.


The original 1963 Summer Magic was a warm family comedy/drama highlighted by songs by Disney Legends Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. The show's creators, Jerry Maloy and Jim Hollifield, adapted it into a full musical by expanding the original score of seven tunes (including the worldwide favorite, "Ugly Bug Ball") to 24 songs, including selections from the Sherman classics, The Happiest Millionaire and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.


But here's the thing: after this weekend it may disappear forever! Disney Theatrical Group has granted permission to produce Summer Magic as a nonprofit, limited staging in cooperation with the Newport Theatre Guild and the Morristown Theatre Guild. So these may be the only performances.


Special events are also part of the excitement. This Friday, June 22 at 7 p.m. the Summer Magic performance will be preceded by a special panel hosted by Stacia Martin. Friday's special guests will be Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman and film star Eddie Hodges, sharing behind-the-scenes memories. Richard's lovely wife, Elizabeth, Disney Legend Mary Costa (voice of Princess Aurora), Disney author/artist Russell Schroeder and Disney author/vice president Howard E. Green are also scheduled to attend on Friday evening.


Saturday, June 23 at 7 p.m., Richard Sherman will kick off the evening with a lively Q&A session, followed by the live show.

Starring in all three weekend performances, (including a Sunday 2:30 p.m. matinee) will be Kathy Garver (Cissy of TV's Family Affair) on stage in the role of Mother Carey!

Walt Disney's Summer Magic: Flittering from Film to Footlights will appear at the Morristown campus of Walters State Community College. For ticket information, call 423-586-9260 or visit

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jun 19 2012 by Greg
By now most everyone knows that Disney's John Carter, after a long history of on-again, off again adaptation to the big screen that spans almost as many years as the stories themselves, was pummeled at the box office. However, as some correctly predicted, it was a big hit overseas -- and premiered at #1 on Blu-ray and DVD last week.

One must wonder how many formed their opinions about the film based on the widely reported lack of ticket sales. There has been lots of finger pointing for the losses, but perhaps the fault wasn't the film so much as with the timing. Did theater audiences want another scifi-fantasy epic franchise? Who knows?

John Carter is not a perfect film, but it is very far from a catastrophe. Visually, the stunning imagery, especially on Blu-ray, cannot be denied. The years of work and the big budget shows on screen. Meticulous details abound that make the film very rewatchable. I was struck by the clear glass in the air ships -- it was uneven, as if the glass was hand-made. The look combined high tech with the 19th century (which did remind my wife of Treasure Planet, another very good Disney feature that fizzled in theaters).

The film's shortcomings are so well-documented, you don't need me to recount them. On the positive side, there is some humor, especially the "Virginia" running gag. One of the best characters in the film is James Purefoy as Kantos Kan (yes, it's hard to keep track of the names and I had to look it up), who amusingly forces his own capture in a climactic battle scene.

The toughest roles are the leads, and Taylor Kitsch fares no better than the more well-known Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. Neither actor can be held totally responsible when they're shouldering such a massive movie. The princess role, which proved problematic to the filmmakers, who had trouble reconciling her 100-year old persona with contemporary expectations, is handled with deft skill by Lynn Collins.

The film has some great shape-shifting villains offering lots of potential for future adaptations. There is also a fascinating parallel narrative centering on Edgar Rice Burroughs as a character in the 19th century, learning the secrets of Carter as he unknowingly dodges the bad guys (I would have liked to have seen more of this story thread).

The point is, John Carter is a rousing spectacle that is a must-see for action, scifi, fantasy and adventure movies in the Spielberg/Lucas style. Whether we'll ever see more of this world, in perhaps an animated TV version, is certainly unlikely from where the property stands today.

But the same could have been said for Tron and Newsies. Just by reading the many amazon reviews, ta lot of passionate fans are already championing the movie. Maybe more time will tell...

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jun 01 2012 by Greg
There are certain types of films that provide a good excuse to buy them on Blu-ray. Maybe not something like Paul Blart, Mall Cop (though it is available), but spectacles of scope, color and detail.

Animated features by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki fit this category. As new features are released, you can see them on Blu-ray, and eventually the previous releases will surely be available too.

Three have just been released: one brand new feature, The Secret World of Arriety; a lesser known Studio Ghibli release, Whisper of the Heart; and one renowned Miyazaki landmark, Castle in the Sky. All three are introduced by Disney and Pixar creative chief John Lasseter, perhaps Miyazaki's biggest fan and artistic disciple.

Fans of Pixar who haven't discovered these films should take note of their emphasis on character and story, as well as a flair for visual stylization and detail.

1986's award-winning Castle in the Sky, also known as Laputa, is the most epic of the three and follows most closely the Miyazaki themes of environmental protection, loyalty, gadgetry in a period setting, mythology and brave young protagonists who partner with older characters.

Cloris Leachman steals the film as the voice of Dola, a sort of "Popeye meets Wirchiepoo," who, to quote the movie Network, is "crusty but benign." The young characters follow an arc of confidence and courage and, as in all three films, virtually every scene is a masterpiece of design and detail. (See my earlier DVD review here.)

Whisper of the Heart is somewhat of a departure for those used to the fantastic and bizarre nature of most Ghibli films. Written but not directed by Miyazaki, this is a coming of age story of middle school aged kids and puppy love set in modern day Tokyo.

The city setting is a character in itself. Even though there's no Wonderland-like surrealist environments in Whisper, the nooks and crannies of twisting and turning alleys, meandering streets and urban sprawl take on the feel of a wild labrynth. Urban grime and well-worn living space looks alternately cluttered and somehow breathtaking in their stylized complexity.

The story is, in effect, a variation on The Shop Around the Corner, or if you prefer, You've Got Mail, except in this case, the boy and girl are connected by books rather than letters. What's especially interesting for this and all the Disney/Ghibli releases, are how the English language scripts differ in tone from the Japanese.

Many purists insist on subtitled original language versions because they capture the original tone of the actors, while the English version actors, excellent as they are (outstanding, actually), cannot duplicate the performances exactly when they have a changed script and mouth movements to match. And since translations vary also, you really notice subtle differences if you watch both versions one after the other, as my family did.

The Secret World of Arriety, also adapted by Miyazaki, is the first feature-length animated version of Mary Norton's first book in The Borrowers series. I recall fondly the first version, a live videotaped adaptation for NBC in 1973 starring Eddie Albert and Tammy Grimes with music by Rod McKuen. It's quaint by today's standards, but it is still charming and can be found easily on budget DVDs.

Because I had read the book several times and seen the NBC show even more, the characters and settings were etched in my mind. This animated version, for the most part, adheres to the original.

There are only major changes. One in the more comical take on the housekeeper, named Haru in this version, with a spot-on voice performance by Carol Burnett (who also promoted the film in the media). Her ability to get the most out of a line, while still matching the mouth movements, reminds us of what a peerless master she is.

The other change is in the persona of Pod, Arriety's father -- who is a  plump, generally merry dandy in the book and in Eddie Albert's version -- becomes a rugged Clint Eastwood type. It's an interesting approach but an odd match for the unchanged mother character, Homily. It's as if Race Bannon married Miss Grundy.

A simple household, because of the size and scale of the small Borrowers, is as big as a city, and the artists make full use of it. On the Blu-ray, you can see every leaf yard and almost every molecule in the house.

The Secret World of Arriety is probably the most accessible of the Ghibli features, at least to the uninitiated, and especially recommended for first time viewers of the extraordinary artistry of Miyazaki and his fellow artists.

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