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DON'T FIRE THIS "APPRENTICE" -- IT'S BETTER THAN YOU MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT
Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 03 2010 by Greg
When Disney announced a live action adventure feature based on The Sorcerer's Apprentice, at first it was met with disbelief. When it became clear that it was a action/fantasy more in the manner of a modern day Harry Potter, the general reception improved. However the box office did not yield results as spectacular as the resulting film.



It's a shame because my family and I enjoyed it in the theather and again seeing it at home on this DVD/Blu-Ray release. Nicolas Cage plays the mentor sorcerer Balthazar in the manner of his performance in National Treasure, a crowd favorite, and Jay Baruchel (who scored much higher, box-office-wise, in How to Train Your Dragon) does a creditable job as a likable young nerd who learns the apparent connection between science and magic.

The cast appears to be having a ball. The always entertaining Alfred Molina delights in yet another larger-than-life villain role, much more rich than the one he was given in Prince of Persia.

There are some deleted scenes as bonus features (more on the Blu-Ray than the DVD) and making-of feature, but no commentary, which might have been welcome. However there is that thoughtful narrative description feature for the sight impaired and those of us who might like to listen to the movie without watching -- like the classic Disneyland Storyteller LP series of days past.

The film's centerpiece of course is the iconic broom sequence made so famous by Mickey Mouse's definitive Fantasia performance and Paul Dukas' masterful music. It's cute and brilliantly executed (as one of the bonus features prove) but hardly the same as the animated version. However, these moments of sheer magical whimsy put me in the mind of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and made me yearn for a all-out family fantasy in the classic Disney tradition. Maybe someday...







"PAWS" TAKES A FEW NIBBLES FROM OTHER HOLIDAY KIBBLES
Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 02 2010 by Greg
It's been said that there are only seven basic storylines for westerns. The same might be said for Christmas movies and The Search for Santa Paws is no exception. This one leans a bit toward Miracle on 34th Street, but as Santa's magic bag of story ideas started to run low, it clearly was time to "pay tribute" to Mister Magorium's Wonder Emporium and about eight gallons of Annie.



The interesting thing is that, of the many entries in the "Buddies" series, including last year's Santa Buddies, this film is less about the cute talking puppies and more about an amnesiac Santa, several adorable orphans and warm hearted yuppies.

No kidding, the little orphan girls sing a song in their room just like "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"  and the youngest orphan sings her version of "Maybe." Actually the whole film is largely a musical with on-camera singing with both the orphans in New York and the elves at the North Pole. The songs and the lavish musical score are nice, though, and I'm looking for a soundtrack CD (last year, you had to buy Santa Buddies at Target to get a soundtrack) but can't seem to find one this time around.

There's even a Miss Hannigan type who burns toys, bans singing and "is a strict home schooler." Okay, why did that line have to be there? Especially when countless home schooling parents might be part of the buying public. I know she's really lying and making the girls work for her, but the line's not necessary nor nice.

What's most interesting for holiday movie buffs is that the special effects, particularly Santa's sleigh flying over New York, must be more rudimentary and certainly less cumbersome to create for this modestly budgeted direct-to-DVD movie than it was back when 1985's Santa Claus the Movie used quite a bit of its multi million dollar budget on doing pretty much the same thing without the benefit of today's technology.

Disney Channel watchers will recognize a lot of actors from various shows, including Madison Pettis (who's grown up a bit since Cory in the House), John Ducey (the JONAS dad) and G. Hannelius (of Sonny with a Chance). Voicing the lead puppy is Mitchel Musso of Hannah Montana and Pair of Kings.

It's pleasant going but isn't likely to replace Dickens. But then, it isn't intended to. It's kind of like one of those store bought holiday cookie making kits. The cookies are kinda tasty, very colorful, the kids enjoy them. But they're not the same as those cookies you waited all year for to arrive from Aunt Marge.







BIG NIGHT FOR ANIMATION ON "STU'S SHOW" TONIGHT & ALL WEEK
Blog
Posted on Dec 01 2010 by Greg
Right at this moment, Jerry Beck is guesting on Stu's Show along with Jim Korkis, talking all about Warner Brothers and Disney and all things animation. There's still time to get in an email question or maybe they may take calls.

Just visit www.shokusradio.com and click on the little start symbol in the blue Live 365 box. If you miss the show, it's being rebroadcast every day, three times a day until next Tuesday.







"WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY" SURPRISE CAMEO...SORT OF
Blog, Movies
Posted on Nov 28 2010 by Greg
Three must-have Disney documentaries make their DVD debut on Tuesday, Nov. 30: The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story (watch this blog for an upcoming interview with the Sherman cousins), Walt and el Grupo (more about that on my Nov. 21 blog) and Waking Sleeping Beauty, the story of the tumultuous though successful second golden age of Disney animation.



Waking Sleeping Beauty, of the three films, has received the most notice in the press because it involves the most current high-profile films and some of the highest rollers in entertainment. It is a major work, not only because it reveals more about the goings-on behind the Disney scenes, good and bad, than any Disney-released film before it, but also because it shows what it was like to have those "dream jobs" of being a Disney animator during it most explosive period since Walt's days.

The DVD adds a detailed audio commentary by filmmakers Don Hahn and Peter Schneider and a generous supply of bonus features like deleted scenes and informative segments that build on the film itself. I wish the film could have continued the story beyond the resignation of Jeffrey Katzenburg, but as one animator in a deleted scene does comment, things were never the same when Katzenburg left. The same is said for Howard Ashman, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft and most recently, Roy E. Disney. History has proved it true in the ensuing years though things are certainly looking up since the end of the contentious period described in the book "Disney Wars".

Take a look at the Waking Sleeping Beauty Bonus Features, and in a section called Studio Tours, you'll enjoy three informal romps through the animation halls with animator/director Randy Cartwright (filmed by none other than John Lasseter, just before he started doing that "computer stuff.") A young Tim Burton appears in the 1980 segment, but that's not the surprise.

In the 1990 segment, Randy visits director John Musker's office as he is reading the latest Animation Magazine. John holds up the magazine and there is the great big name of renowned animation historian JIM KORKIS right in our astonished faces!
Imagine that!



Jim was a regular columnist for Animation and his exquisite anecdotes, little-known and never-known facts helped him amass his legion of fans worldwide.



You probably know that Jim's latest book, The Vault of Walt, is the talk of every animation enthusiast, Disney fan and noted expert this season. It's probably on your amazon wish list. Jim took his columns and blogs and updated them with even more information. It's a treasure trove. No one could possibly read this and say, "Oh I already knew everything in there!" Even Diane Disney Miller herself, who wrote the forward.

And with all that Jim has done for Disney executives, cast members, enthusiasts and friends on both coasts, surely no one person will be able to forever keep him from continuing to inspire and help others in his neverending quest to unearth more knowledge and share it with a wider audience than ever before.



Hey if it's good enough for John Musker, right? After all, he co-wrote and co-directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog and lots more. You ain't never had an expert like Jim, nor a book like The Vault of Walt.







A FEW NOTES ABOUT THE "MOTE"
Blog, TV
Posted on Nov 27 2010 by Greg
Kids love to have "pretend" version of equipment, appliances and other "grownup" stuff, so why wouldn't they want to have their own TV remote? The new "Mickey Mote" doesn't change channels or control volume, but it does allow young children to answer multiple choice questions on specially-equipped Playhouse Disney DVDs.

This feature was formerly known on earlier releases as "Discovery Mode." You could choose a setting on the DVD so your home remote could allow your child to answer the questions, which randomly stop the story action throughout select episodes and feature length specials (more about just how "select" in a moment).

So you can already do pretty much the same thing with a regular remote that you can do with a Mickey Mote, but where's the colorful fun in that? And do you really want to have a small child fiddle with a complicated remote and maybe get strawberry jam all over it? That's the idea, and it's not a bad one if you want to add just a little more interaction to shows that already stop their action frequently to ask the viewers what to do, or to count things, etc. in the manner of Blues's Clues and Dora the Explorer. (I personally prefer the more plot-driven features because they are richer in content than the shorter episodes.

Parents shouldn't just load the batteries, start the DVDs, hand the child a Mickey Mote and let it go at that. First it has to be set in a specific way with a specific sequence of steps. It's not complicated, but if you skip a step it won't work. It comes with printed instructions and on-screen directions. Once you've set the Mickey Mote, it's ready to use.



Then you must choose from two play levels on the settings of the DVD and the episode starts. Here's where we had some issues. On Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Numbers Roundup, which is packaged with the Mickey Mote, there are short episodes that seem chosen at random after you select the activity mode. In other words, you might see "Mickey's Big Surprise" one time, set it again and then see "Mickey's Round Up the Next." We tried it over and over again and it seems to allow no control over which episodes it shows after you choose the activity mode -- and for the life of me, I can't figure out how to use it for the bonus episode at all.

So your child can of course watch all five episodes but I couldn't tell you how to see all four plus the bonus one on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Numbers Roundup with the Mote.



It's much better with feature-length episodes like that of another new Playhouse Disney DVD release, Handy Manny Big Construction Job. You set the DVD for the mote, and the whole 67 minute story follows with lots of Mickey Mote interactivity. We also tried it with an earlier release, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland, and the same holds true.

We had a three year old over for the holiday and she loved using the remote, and since her attention span is less than those of me and my older kids, she was perfectly delighted with Numbers Roundup. We did not get the opportunity to see if she would become frustrated if she couldn't "Mote" on all the episodes, but perhaps it's a bigger deal to us than to the little ones.

Me -- I still love putting the Magic Screen on the TV, getting out the Magic Crayons and helping Winky Dink in one of his adventures. Now THAT'S interactivity!









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