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Blu-ray & DVD Review: The Pirate Fairy
Blog, TV
Posted on Apr 11 2014 by Greg

In his book about the Pixar challenges and triumphs, Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull describes how the role of the "Brain Trust" in making the best films possible -- and their record speaks for itself. As part of Disney, Pixar has inspired their "Story Trust," which is actually mentioned on one of the bonus features.

Clearly this system, while not infallible, works, because The Pirate Fairy has one of the tightest and fastest paced stories of not just the Disney Fairies series, but direct to video films in general. Of all the Fairies films, this one ranks alongside my favorite in the series, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue.

But you'll notice that "Tinker Bell" does not appear in the title. Perhaps it's because the Disney Fairies franchise has proven so strong, it alone can carry a film, with Tinker Bell as almost a supporting character.

The star of this film is the title character, an inquisitive, ADD fairy named Zarina who, in a strangely Breaking Bad kind of plot, uses her talents as a chemist (or "alchemist") to use the -- yes -- "blue" pixie dust to create a line of multi-purpose dusts. When her plans cause chaos and she is chastised, she turns to a life of piracy on the high seas.

Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway-Harris on Mad Men), turns in her third vocal performance for animation, preceded by Goro Miyazaki's From Up On Poppy Hill and as Lois Lane in All-Star Superman. Tom Hiddleston, of The Avengers and War Horse, has a blast playing and singing her assistant pirate, John (as he demonstrates in another bonus feature).

Though there are quite a few excellent direct to video animated features, some of them tend to sag after the first 20-30 minutes. This one never does. It's slam-bang adventure/fantasy, with lots of visual eye candy, character-based humor and a fine score by Joel McNeely.

Second Star to the Right: The Legacy of Never Land (4:45)
Croc-U-Mentary (4:45)
Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions:
     Tea House Disappointment
     Vidia's Birthday Surprise
     Zarina Experiments
     Fairies United
The Making of "The Frigate That Flies" (4:21)
Animated Shorts:
     "Treasure Chest"
Sing-Along Songs

Blu-ray & DVD Review: Disney's Frozen
Blog, Movies, Music
Posted on Apr 10 2014 by Greg

To fans of Disney and musicals, there hasn't been a more satisfying phenomenon than Frozen. When Disney is true to itself, making the kind of movies that have been the hallmark of the studio for over 70 years, it's "magic" the thing, not "magic" the word.

At first glance, Frozen doesn't seem to break any new ground for the genre. It's great storytelling, a marvelous score, spectacular visuals -- everything one expects from classic Disney. But its overwhelming success suggests that it is more of a landmark than it may seem.

They listened to their audience. Not through data, research and focus groups, but in everyday life. This movie has true insight into where young and old really are in this day and age. Possible more than most live-action movies, Frozen taps into commitment, loyalty, frustration, self-sacrifice and the many forms of love. It's not all about me-me-me -- ultimately it's about we-we-we. You just don't see this much in today's entertainment, which leans toward the you-deserve-a-break-today message.

To me, the best thing about Frozen is the music -- the songs and the background score (which tends to be overshadowed by the great songs). This means that family musicals may have life again and perhaps survive a little longer than in the past. Disney's life blood is animation, but its soul is music.

And the songwriting innovation that the Lopezes brought with them from the stage (as well as their fine work on Winnie the Pooh and Finding Nemo-The Musical) is the "revue" song. There have been many humorous Disney songs, but never with this precise kind of verbal interplay. Yet their work is extremely reverential to the Disney musical canon and the great talents that created all those songs.

The bonus features are nice, but there will probably be more on the inevitable "Crystal Edition" or some such reissue, since Frozen has shattered home entertainment records the way it did at the box office and in Billboard.

You let it go, girl!

Original Theatrical Short - Get a Horse
The Making of Frozen (3:18)
D-Frosted: Disney's Journey from Hans Christian Andersen
   to Frozen (7:28
Deleted Scenes (with optional intros from directors)
        Never Underestimate the Power of Elsa
        The Dressing Room
        Meet Kristoff #1
        Meet Kristoff #2
"Let it Go" Music Videos
Original Teaser Trailer

Original Theatrical Short - Get a Horse
"Let it Go" Music Videos

DVD REVIEW: The Bobby Darin Show
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Apr 08 2014 by Greg

The Bobby Darin Show may well be the very last of the grand TV variety shows done in the classic style. Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and their ilk were more campy, more deconstructive, in their approaches. Bobby Darin was a throwback to the Rat Pack, the essence of cool and ultimate timelessness. (For those too young to know Darin's work, one of his biggest hits was "Beyond the Sea," which gained new fame in Finding Nemo, as performed by rock star Robbie Williams in tribute to Darin.)

It's also a study of a extraordinary performer giving his/her all, almost to the point of collapse. (Judy Garland's TV series is another example.) Here is a singer/actor/musician/showman who is seriously ill. Darin had struggled with health issues since childhood and when he was doing this series, his irregular heart beat often made him in a dreadful state when the cameras stopped rolling. He passed away only a few months after the series left the air.

But when the cameras were on, all the audience sees is a consummate entertainer with seemingly boundless energy and a personable quality ideal for television. He also had the rare quality of reaching audiences of all ages by singing Sinatra pop, country, classic rock and roll and blues, all in a way that came naturally. That was because there were many Bobby Darins -- he was one complicated fellow. Everything he had he gave on stage.

The TV show, whose writers included Alan Thicke and regulars included versatile TV host/radio personality Geoff Edwards, followed the basic variety format. The first few shows' finales salute a specific city with its music, there were assorted sketches, commercial bumpers with Darin as Groucho, and what had to be the most personal of the sketches, "The Neighborhood."

"The Neighborhood" was akin to Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners," a slice of life in the tough, working class streets of New York, surely as much a part of Darin's early life as Gleason's. Darin plays Angie, the voice of reason, while familiar character actor Dick Bakalyan (who appeared in numerous Disney comedies, as well as voicing the Oscar-winning "It's Tough to Be a Bird") plays Carmine, the dreamer who always hatches a money making scheme or is snared by a fishy endeavor.

Darin's other characters include a hippie poet and "The Godmother," two more personas that come from his life as living in a trailer on the beach and in the company of tough old Italian mamas.

The shows also include another unique regular feature, in which Darin sings to his female guest, face-to-face, both in a highly seductive way that says more than the most of today's more overt depictions of romance and general bedroom hijinks.

This was the early '70s, so many of the songs have that groovy sound. The dancers have that Disneyland "Kids of the Kingdom" vibe. It's also interesting to see what fine singing voices guests like Dyan Cannon and Cloris Leachman have. (Ever strange, Leachman does a butterfly number that is characteristically bizarre.)

But it's the last episode that is most unforgettable. Watch the bonus documentary for the background. Because of a lack of rehearsal, Darin performed pretty much his entire Las Vegas act while Peggy Lee simmered in her dressing room, waiting to go on. Once she did her segment with Darin, the tension is palpable, yet fitting as the duo sings very dark songs of lost loves. By the end, the two have connected as two giants of song interpretation.

One can only speculate what Bobby Darin would have given the world had he not died at 37. This DVD truly captures his lightning in a bottle.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Saving Mr. Banks
Blog, Movies
Posted on Apr 07 2014 by Greg

If you care anything about Disney, music, art, storytelling, the human condition, irresistible forces, immovable objects, imagination, conflict, compromise, respect, heart, soul and kites, you either already have or will definitely appreciate Saving Mr. Banks.

At the root of the story, though, may be the volatile and dynamic nature of creativity. Writing a book, making a movie, composing songs -- all of these come from scratch, but they all connect to life experiences and deep emotions, sometimes not even realized by the creative person.

You're not doing your job as a creative if you don't come up with something you become attached to. But once you do that, you set yourself up for hurt and defensiveness. It's realizing that and dealing with this phenomenon that is the constant challenge in a creative endeavor.

Few movies capture such an ethereal concept as well as Saving Mr. Banks. It's not about what room Walt Disney stood in on February 3, 1062, nor is it about who is opposing whom. And it's downright foolish and misguided to see it as one side "winning" over another. A creative thing is a living thing and it lives on in film, music, print and more. It's about the work, not who is who. That transcends the time, setting and players.

The performances are spot on. Lots has been said about the actors, but I also loved the way it was filmed, the sequences that tied one era to another, and the superb musical score.

Not much in the way of bonus features on the Blu-ray (would have loved a commentary), but the major documentary is very fresh and filled with insight not found anywhere else. The rousing film wrap moment when the crew sang "Let's Go Fly a Kite" is downright tear-jerking. In a good way.

Mary Poppins has been inducted into the National Film Registry, it's soundtrack in now in the Grammy Hall of Fame and this film cements the Sherman Brothers as artists at the level of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan. That alone makes it an important motion picture.

DVD REVIEW: Jungle Book 2 Blu-ray
Blog, Movies, TV
Posted on Mar 29 2014 by Greg

This is actually the second sequel to Walt Disney's 1967 animated hit, The Jungle Book. The first sequel was released in 1969. It wasn't an animated film, it was a Disneyland record album called More Jungle Book, co-written by and starring Phil Harris. The story was no great shakes, but there were some nice new songs, including a few from the Sherman Brothers.

It might have been nice if the makers of Jungle Book 2 were aware of the album, if only for a few of the songs and tweaks here and there. Both are not much more than retreads of the first story with nearly identical scenes (the Kaa and Shere Khan sequence is almost a direct lift).

The 1969 record focuses primarily on Baloo, who is depressed because he misses Mowgli. He goes to the man village. Bagheera and King Louie follow him and meet Mowgli. Louie tries to touch fiery coals and burns his hand. Baloo is captured but his friends rescue him. Baloo and Mowgli have a nice reunion in the jungle, but Mowgli goes back to the man village, promising to return once a week.

2003's Jungle Book 2 focuses more on Mowgli and his two new friends, including Shanti, known only as "The Girl" in the original film. Baloo pretends to play with Mowgli in scene spoofing Cast Away's Wilson. Baloo goes to the man village, Shere Khan follows, panic ensues. Mowgli and his friends enter the jungle. Kaa, the vultures and the monkeys return to do pretty much what they did in the last film. I won't spoil the ending, just guess.

Popular as The Jungle Book is -- and tempting as it had to have been to make into a sequel -- it's the story that is the major challenge. The first film, which clearly met and surpassed the challenge, was a celebration of great characterization in voices, music and animation. The sequel has lines like "You can take the boy out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the boy."

Like a pair of new Manolo Blahniks, the sequel is slick and technically superb as direct to videos go, but there must have been long meetings about "what can we do once they reunite?" They can't open a restaurant or solve crimes (unless it's a Disney Afternoon series). So almost everything in the sequel is repeated from the first film, albeit with much more technical virtuosity. I have to wonder if the film makers themselves wanted to expand the story but were hampered by meddling that forced them to take the "surefire" approach.

With respect to Walt Disney Animation Australia, which turned out consistently great work (TV animation too often gets a bad rap, frankly), this may be one of the least satisfactory of the direct to video sequels. The best that can be said is that it's an opportunity to spend some time with favorite characters again.

Bonus Features
Backstage Disney:
Synopsis of the Original Movie The Jungle Book
The Legacy of The Jungle Book

Deleted Scenes:
"I Got You Beat"
Music and More:
Sing Along with the Movie
Music Videos

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