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Blog, Movies
Posted on Apr 07 2010 by Greg
When my wife and I married almost 15 years ago, I became more acquainted with very unique world that is New Orleans -- particularly the food. I had not seen very many flattering portrayals of the city in movies and TV (Live and Let Die springs to mind) but it is truly an amazing city with lots of rich history, wonderful people and did I mention food?

Food figures prominently in The Princess and the Frog, since Tiana, the lead character, dreams of opening a great restaurant and fulfilling the wishes of her father. There are more than a few scenes devoted to cooking and cuisine. One scene in particular uses the proper dicing of vegetables for gumbo as a way to bond Tiana and Prince Naveen.

Music is also a core component to both the city and the film and Randy Newman delivered a full "book" score that touches each musical style of the region and add much-needed songs to the recent Disney catalog. My particular favorite is "My Evangeline," a stunningly beautiful ballad sensitively sung by the amazing Jim Cummings (also the voice of Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck and many others). By the way, every speaking actor also sings his or her songs.

There have been those who have expressed comments about what The Princess and the Frog is not, rather that what it is. Perhaps the hopes for Disney's return to hand-drawn animation created overly high expectations, but it's wonderful to see this style executed in such exquisite, classic style. I think it will hold up to the test of time and become a Disney staple.

Don't miss the audio commentary by the directors because they are very generous in their background information as well as generous in giving credit to those involved in the film. It's interesting to note their story about how, when faced with creating an animated feature after the division was all but shuttered, were looking for animation desks and were led to a secret "stash" collected by Christopher (son of Disney Legend Winston) Hibler -- somehow he knew they would be needed.

The Blu-Ray not only offers a more detailed and brilliant image and sound, but there almost a dozen features there that are not included on the regular DVD. Plus you get a download disc so you can watch it on your iPod. Who would have thought such things were possible only a few years ago?

Blog, Parks
Posted on Apr 06 2010 by Greg
Last Saturday, Tinker Bell and Terence joined folks from Epcot and DisneyToon Studios for the unveiling of a winning "fairy house" created by 15-year old  Zoe P., of Frazier Park, Calif. She and her sister submitted drawings and the winner was able to create an actual one with the assistance of Walt Disney World Horticulture Cast Members. Her whole family were invited to enjoy the festivities.

That's Epcot VP Dan Cockerell on the far right with Bradley Raymond and Helen Kalafatic, Director and Producer of the upcoming DVD feature,
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, which will be released this Fall. One of the iconic set pieces of the film, an oatmeal box that serves as the fairy house 9-year-old Lizzie builds -- and Tinker Bell enters -- has been added to the Pixie Hollow play and activity area at the current International Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 29 2010 by Greg
Released a year after My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service is among the most cheerful and lighthearted of Hayao Miyazaki's Ghibli features. A tween-age witch leaves home for a journey on her own as part of her training, settling in a small fictional town that is somewhat Germanic in look. The storyline is not as intricate as, say, that of Spirited Away, but the characters are no less charming or memorable.

In this Disney-produced English translation (you can watch it subtitled in Japanese at once), Kirsten Dunst's earnest performance reminds me of Pamelyn Ferdin, the go-to young actress of late 60s/early 70s TV and animation. Debbie Reynolds has a small role as a kindly old woman, partnered with Edie McClurg as her housekeeper.

But the scene-stealing role is that of the late Phil Hartman as Jiji, the cat who accompanies Kiki on her journey, making acerbic comments along the way. It only serves to underscore the great loss of a gifted performer and the potential never realized.

One of the most interesting things about Kiki's Delivery Service is the way the general populace reacts to her magical gifts. She belongs to a group of individuals that are not feared, hidden or scorned, but instead treated matter-of-factly. A prime example is a scene in which Kiki's takes off on her broom and a village lady looks on with a "well, what do you know, how interesting" reaction. She doesn't go all "Gladys Kravitz."

This Special Edition issue of the movie is accompanied with a series of short bonus documentaries and an interactive "world of Ghibli" feature.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Mar 28 2010 by Greg
As writer/director Hayao Miyazaki explains on the the new subtitled documentary material on this new Special Edition DVD, he was growing dissatisfied with the creative limits of working in television animation, he wanted to create a gentle, enchanting family feature regardless of the potential for commercial success.

My Neighbor Totoro apparently did not smash box office records on the big screen in 1988, but subsequent TV airings made it one of the most popular and beloved films in Japan (not unlike what happened with the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

Totoro is on the Studio Ghibli movies, an icon status comparable to Mickey Mouse with Disney and Luxo, Jr. with Pixar. But it all started in this film, which in a its second DVD release in the revised Disney English version, which was preceded by an earlier English version released by Fox.

Each Miyazaki feature boasts a voice cast of marquee names as well as top Hollywood voice artists. The "name" talent is seen in brief "behind the microphone" bonus features -- in which you can sometimes also glimpse the strong supporting casts.

Dakota and Elle Fanning turn in superb performances as the young sisters in Totoro, a very crucial element in making the English version work. Also in the cast are Tim Daly as the dad, Lea Salonga as the mom and the wondrous Pat Carroll as the warmhearted Nanny, a sharp constrast to her Ursula character in Disney's The Little Mermaid.

The extraordinary Frank Welker growls as the Totoro himself. Welker, a gifted impressionist who entered voice work as the one and only Fred on Scooby Doo, is perhaps the most heard voice in film and TV today.

The film itself is, to borrow from the Sherman Brothers, lovely and lyrical, filled with breaktaking landscapes and rich characters in a simple, pleasant tale that is a welcome break from the frenetic pace of most current entertainment.

Posted on Mar 24 2010 by Greg
My son loves LEGOs (in fact, he's proud to be a "certified builder"), so I had to share this story.

Because Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are out in in Special Edition Blu-ray & DVD Combo Packs this week (and special edition DVD in three weeks), Pixar Story Supervisor Jason Katz--who worked on all three films--joined  LEGO Master Builder Erik Varszegi and kids from the Hollywood Boys & Girls Clubs to assemble this mural, made from sections created by Boys & Girls Clubs in Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles.

That's a lot o' LEGOs.

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