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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.

Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Aug 19 2011 by Greg

The child actors of the '80s who voiced young Tod and young Copper in Disney's The Fox and the Hound have continued their separate careers and moved in varying directions, much as their animated counterparts. I spoke with Keith Coogan--who has had a long and successful career as an adult as well as a child--about the film, his legendary grandfather and his co-star.

GREG: Have you watched The Fox and the Hound over the years since its first release in the '80s?

KEITH: I have probably watched it once every five years or so. This one [on Blu-ray] is just unbelievably beautiful.  Sounds great, looks terrific.  Thank you Disney for my copy.  So yeah, I have watched it over the years and always from a different kind of point of view.  Just like when you watch E.T.  First you will identify with Elliot, then you will identify with the older brother, then you identify with the mom, then you wind up identifying with Peter Coyote.  Well the same with The Fox and the Hound.  I appreciated the Sandy Duncan role as I grew older, I appreciated more of the story as I matured. And when I watch, I can forget I was even a part of it because they put it together so great and it is such a strong story. Anytime I need a good cry I would pop in The Fox and the Hound!


G:  But that is a "good" kind of sad.  It is important for kids to learn compassion.

K: Yeah.  That is such a message of the movie.  When you‚€™re a kid, you are class blind, you are color blind. That innocence is what they are layering over, and that optimismÔ¿½‚€œwe will always be friends forever, won‚€™t we?‚€Ě  ‚€œYeah, forever.‚€Ě  Then it turns out not to be the case and why and that always brings a tear to my eye.


G: The production was a bit bumpy according to the history books, but The Fox and the Hound is especially noted because it blended the work of veteran and new animators.


K: I‚€™m very proud to be part of a Disney classic and I love that animators and fans alike see it as a crossover picture from the old to the new. It took a while to make and they stretched the voice recording over several years. I remember seeing the ‚€œpencil‚€Ě version of the bear attack and the waterfall.  Terrifying.  Unbelievable. They had all the sound, everything in it but they hadn‚€™t animated that sequence yet and it was still very intense, very frightening.


G: Were you and Corey Feldman (who voiced Copper) already friends?


K: They recorded us separate but I had known Corey Feldman and we had worked together. We were definitely cohorts and friends.  I would be done with my session and I would see him come in with his mom, maybe we had some on-set school together a little bit.


G: Was doing the voice a challenge as a child actor?


Not being able to act with my eyes and my body was a loss. I had never done voice over before. So the process was just they were explaining, ‚€œOkay, these are the two birds and you are really grossed out by the worm and you say ‚€ėYeecch.‚€™‚€Ě Some times I would just give a one-line reading, other times they would try a bunch of different options.  It was basically easy, probably three sessions total for a period of two years or so. Then when the film came out, I was just blown away.  You wouldn‚€™t have known that Corey and I weren‚€™t working together or in the same room.


G: In the film, you‚€™re credited as Keith Mitchell. Did you change it to honor your grandfather, Jackie Coogan?


K: My stage name is Keith Coogan. Before my grandfather passed away in 1984, my work was under Keith Mitchell, which was my birth name. When my grandfather died in 1984, I changed it to my mother‚€™s maiden name, Coogan.  I totally wanted his name to continue. You should know who Jackie Coogan was, what he did for child earnings, what he went through, his history. I wanted to honor my grandfather and also do an absolute split between my younger television work and the future film career that I was planning on at the time.


G: Of course, Jackie Coogan is legendary as the first big child star, the developer of the Coogan Law to protect young performers‚€™ earnings and Uncle Fester on TV‚€™s The Addams Family. Did he talk a lot about the early days?


K: We were very aware of that history of my grandfather. Hewould say things like ‚€œI didn‚€™t meet the Pope, the Pope met me.‚€Ě  Great quotes from Charlie Chaplin like ‚€œI only had one costar and that was Jackie Coogan.‚€Ě  He definitely lived in that past, he had great successes from age four.  There‚€™s a great biography of  him called Jackie Coogan: The World‚€™s First Boy King. Chaplin was absolutely responsible for establishing my grandfather‚€™s image, costume and then Jackie and my great-grandfather ran with it.  My great-grandfather turned into a producer, created Jackie Coogan Productions and did My Boy, Long Live the King and Oliver Twist. His first talkie was Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  So, I knew about the legend really as I had grown up and I have read more and learned more. He went through so many things in his life. He married Betty Grable, fought in World War II, of course had a second career with The Addams Family.  l loved him dearly. He was the cranky, rascally old grandpa that a lot of people seem to have. 


G: Do you have advice for young performers today?


Spend very thriftily, be wise with your money.  It doesn‚€™t last very long.  The fame comes and goes, it is very cyclical, enjoy it while it is happening, really, really, enjoy it, it is over before you know it.  You can come back, America loves a great come back story.  You might find yourself just continuing on and just working if it is something you really love to do.  If you really, really enjoy being on a set, if you really enjoy acting it is a great craft, something that calls to you, you have know choice but to do it.  But, if you are going to do it, certainly get an education to fall back because you may not ever work again and you‚€™ve got to make a living.  It doesn‚€™t last forever and enjoy it while it is happening. I am very lucky to have broken into features at 16. I turned 17 on the set of Adventures in Babysitting, also for Disney. Chris Columbus was such a great director to us as kids.  He would see the story from the kids‚€™ point of view and that helps the audience see the story from the kids‚€™ point of view. Another Disney film I was very happy to do was Cheetah, which took me to Kenya and was one of the greatest times of my life.  I turned 18 on that set so just a year later.  What an unbelievable experience!


G: And now you‚€™re creating your own digital film productions.


K: Yes, and it‚€™s something almost anyone can do in their own way. You can write, you can produce and help other people out with their projects and friends and it is a different animal.  It is a different pace, you are shooting a lot more, you have a lot more room to improvise, still rolling, still rolling. I really like the way the industry is kind of changing.  It is miraculous and I took right to it.  A little combo of improvisation, a little combo of that classic structure of how to shoot a scene and how to do coverage but moving fast and light with digital and even 3D.  I did a 3D short.  It is really challenging but also a boon to the creative instinct. I love it.


G; Do you still keep in touch with ‚€œthe hound,‚€Ě Corey Feldman?


K: Yes, I love him, but you do grow apart as adults.  We are not part of our daily lives. For 36 years we have worked side by side in the industry and share some of the same beginnings.  If you look at our IMDBs from the seventies they knock up against each other. So he is definitely respected by me also the only other person I could talk to who has  been through such a similar situation as myself.  He is a great one to lean on when I need to because he is the only one who understands. You look around and think there are not a lot of us left, so I don‚€™t want to lose touch with Corey ever. I have so much respect for him and I want to see more of him of course.  But you grow up. That is the theme of Fox and the Hound.  Adult situations can kind of drive some distance between you, not in the heart. 

Corey and I will always be friends forever.


Posted on Aug 06 2011 by Greg
Oh, it was all in good fun, but in a recent Conan O'Brien interview, an "annoyed" Harrison Ford admitted that even his wife and son went to see The Smurfs, contributing to its phenomenal opening weekend (which surprised many, but not some of us).

Saying that his "Cowboys and Aliens" broke the tie for number one by "almost a lot of money" (less than a million), he and O'Brien reveled one of the most ironic upsets in motion picture history -- the little blue Smurfs were a powerhouse match against Indiana Jones and James Bond appearing in the same movie.

Sorry if get controversial here, but I have always liked The Smurfs, from the hit Hanna-Barbera cartoon to their best selling line of record albums (all of which were recorded in Holland and sounded like "Una Paloma Blanca.")

When my son in Kindergarten, another little boy hassled him after learning he watched the Care Bears. (What are Kindergarten kids supposed to watch, The 40-Year-Old Virgin?) He should have told the little creep that the Care Bears were a multimillion-dollar international concern, not that it would have mattered. It's just that there is a tendency to underestimate things like Smurfs and Chipmunks and other little Davids among the bigger and "cooler" Goliaths.

I co wrote a book about Disney records because I love them and listened to them, even when I was considered too old for many of them.

If you also took a lot of guff for not following the pack and making your own choices in your life, please join me in basking in the glow of Smurfy success.

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