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Posted on Jun 10 2010 by Greg
Here's a cool convoluted thing I just learned. What I was a kid, there was a version of Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass on those 99-cent Happy Time Records. I finally got a copy when it was reissued as simply Alice in Wonderland on Mr. Pickwick Records, which cost a little more.

I later found out that Alice was played on that recording, produced in England, by none other than Juliet Mills, sister of Hayley and star of the fondly-remembered TV series Nanny and the Professor (available free on Hulu). What I did not know was that this was an adaptation of the 1947 Broadway musical version created by the legendary Eve LaGallienne and Florida Friebus (Dobie Gillis, The Bob Newhart Show).

This production was originally conceived in 1932 and was staged for television in 1983 with Richard Burton, Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden (both stars of TV's The Mothers in Law), Nathan Lane, Donald O'Connor and Kate Burton as Alice. The DVD is available here.

Who knew that such a rich legacy was on a 99-cent record you could buy at Grand Union or Kwik-Chek?

Blog, TV
Posted on Jun 09 2010 by Greg
We recently watched a classic episode of the iconic TV series That Girl in which Ann and Donald go on a car trip to meet her parents and encounter comical mishaps along the way. It was carried off brilliantly, in the tradition of film and TV buddy/road comedies that feature a bickering couple. It worked on That Girl and it worked to legendary proportions in It Happened One Night.

It also works, Disney Channel style, in StarStruck, a romantic comedy with pop music starring Sterling Knight of the Channel's series Sonny With a Chance and Danielle Campbell of Disney XD's Zeke and Luther.

The basic story is another wish fulfillment tale for youngsters: a young girl accidentally meets a rock star. There's a fair amount of misunderstanding and teen angst, but the heart of the film is the "two for the road" sequence in which the two stars share mishaps and begin to care for each other. It's surefire when you have a duo with chemistry. Fortunately these two have it.

Campbell is a capable young actress with a lot of potential as a lead who can clearly carry a film, but Knight steals every scene in a role that he apparently won by default (he replaced the errant Cody Lynley). Knight -- who revealed in a Bonnie Hunt Show interview that he got his name from Disney and Hollywood legend Sterling Holloway -- has a true flair for playing the spoiled jerk who you can't dislike, a knowing self-parody of the pretty boy showbiz idol. As he does on Sonny With a Chance, Knight makes the comedy count in a way reminiscent of Michael J. Fox when he became the center of Family Ties. It will be interesting to see where his talent takes him,

The songs are, of course, loaded with appealing hooks that cement them into your head as they were skillfully designed to do. And it's also worth mentioning that the score was by David Lawrence, who also did the High School Musical films and is the son of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.

The DVD is available with or without a CD soundtrack (a nice option) but is not overloaded with extras other than a few music videos. An audio commentary with these talented young stars would be most welcome.

Posted on Jun 07 2010 by Greg
One of the greatest singing voices in the music industry, as well as the advertising industry, is that of the great Ron Dante. Not only has he lent his singing and producing talents to The Archies, The Cuff Links and hundreds of commercials from Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper to General Tire and Appleby's, he also is a Disney fan who has created music for The Little Mermaid series among other things. Oh and he produced albums for Barry Manilow, Cher and others.

But he'll be immortlized as the singing voice of Filmation's Saturday morning CBS cartoon, The Archies (which got over a 40 share at its peak), capable of astounding range that lends itself to multi-tracking perfectly. Forty-one years ago, "Sugar Sugar" from this cartoon group was the number one song of the year, eclipsing yes, The Beatles.

Anyway, I couldn't have been more delighted to hear him singing as well as producing again for Disney on the recent album Happily Ever After, a collection of studio versions of romantic Disney songs. Most are fine reproductions of these tunes by several excellent studio singers, but for the Oscar-nominated "That's How You Know" from Enchanted, Ron Dante does a Caribbean arrangement very reminiscent of his Kirshner days, recalling such songs as "Sunshine" and "Throw a Little Love My Way."

The Ronster's still got it, as his other recent albums also prove. But it's as cool as it can be to hear him doing one of the best Disney songs of recent years. You can download "That's How You Know" alone here or get the whole Happily Ever After album here.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jun 04 2010 by Greg

For this journey down the rabbit hole, Tim Burton is the driver and Johnny Depp the tour guide. Several film versions of Lewis Carroll's two "Alice" books have been released almost since the beginning of the 20th century. By and large, they have not been box office successes, though Walt Disney's 1951 animated feature has become perhaps the most iconic (I also like the 1933 Paramount film, the 1972 British musical film, the 1966 TV special of Through the Looking Glass, all on DVD, and the Hanna-Barbera 1966 special, which I wish was on DVD.)

Disney's new big screen version of Tim Burton's vision of Alice in Wonderland, or "Underland," gives us Johnny Depp once again creating an original persona to our sheer amazement, This film is the first mega-hit movie version of Alice ever, hitting the 1 billion dollar mark worldwide. It's a testament to Johnny Depp's astronomical star power within the right vehicle. It has also been accomplished not only through Burton's artistry, but Linda Woolverton's screenwriting (she penned Disney's Beauty and the Beast, after all).

But they also had to change the story to make it work as a movie. Every filmmaker has struggled with the Carroll texts because, like dreams, they are random experiences with no arc. Walt Disney was the most successful, in my view, at staying faithful to the story without adding an arc (and Walt's artists' vision of the rabbit hole is still the best of all time).

What was done with the 2010 Alice in Wonderland was to make it a revisit, of sorts, with Alice at marrying age and at a crossroads in life. This is her second Wonderland visit, to bring her confidence and direction. It's probably the most re-defined and altered story arc of any Alice adaptation to date (in the excellent Hallmark TV miniseries, Alice is afraid to recite a poem and the Wonderland characters give her moral support).

Alice, in this version, is a bit like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- sent by a prophetic destiny to rid the kingdom of an oppressive, deadly leader. The characters are given names (which my son loves: "It's not the White Rabbit, Daddy, he's McTwisp!"). Elements of the Carroll narrative (the rabbit hole, "drink me," etc.) are still here, but eventually the new adventure takes hold and the film becomes an action fantasy.

By the time Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse reach the Queen's castle, they've become a team more in the style of L. Frank Baum than Carroll -- in fact, I expected Alice to tell the Hatter "I'm going to miss you most of all." She even says a line similar to "and you were there, and you and you!" But I digress and perhaps spoil.

But you know what? It works. And it's more akin to Disney tradition that it may seem at first, since Walt himself considered changing the Carroll story as well, and also almost made a live-action/animated version with Ginger Rogers. This film, with its blend of live actors, CG animation and motion capture, was virtually all performed in front of a green screen, a descendant of the live action/animated sequences in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

The cast is marvelous, on screen and off. Mia Wasikowska suggests Hayley Mills, with a physical resemblance as well as a similar spunky yet sober attitude. Helena Bonham Carter is having a ball with a juicy, outrageous villain to chew on Red Queen. Anne Hathaway channels Snow White (watch those bent elbows) and Billie Burke as the White Queen. The voices of Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Michael Sheen as the White Ra-- oops, I mean McTwisp are among the letter-perfect voice casting. And of course, there's to Johnny Depp's masterful, mercurial "Bozo-Blows-His-Big-Top," yet somehow heartbreakingly sympathetic, Hatter.

One note to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fans: the legendary Barbara Windsor, who voices the swashbuckling Dormouse, was the blonde girl friend of Arthur Millard, the big goofball who got the ugly haircut from Dick Van Dyke's machine in the Sherman Brothers 1968 musical classic. And that's just a small part of a very big stage and screen career. It's nice to hear her in this film.

The film is visually amazing and as good a reason as any to plunk down the cash for a Blu-Ray player. The DVD has a handful of the bonus features included on the Blu-Ray disc, but I sure would have loved to hear an audio commentary from someone about such an interesting film.

Can't wait for the sequel -- how can there NOT be? I've always loved Alice in Wonderland and am glad to see it possibly become a franchise, as well as "cool" again. This is one instance where today's filmmakers have realized that total fantasy and escapism is what audiences want during depressed times.

And it still compliments the Walt Disney version without replacing it. There's always room for another Wonderland, and the Walt Disney version will always be landmark, especially because of its Mary Blair look, classic voice cast and unforgettable songs.

Friday is...ummmm...NATIONAL DOUGHNUT DAY!
Posted on Jun 03 2010 by Greg

What a proud, great nation we live in -- a place where we can celebrate the glorious tasty miracles that are DOUGHNUTS!

Apparently when you visit Krispy Kreme they'll give you a free doughnut on June 4. If you don't have a Krispy Kreme in your town, don't worry. If you've been reasonably good all your life, they hand you fresh hot Krispy Kremes in Heaven -- and they won't be fattening up there. That's worth being good for.

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