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Posted on Dec 20 2013 by Greg



No home should be without a copy of Mary Poppins to watch. If you've seen it many times, just leave it on and go about your business, it adds an element of fun to every job that must be done.

This is the first time Mary Poppins is on Blu-ray, much anticipated by all its fan. The picture is overall superb, but there is a bit of a contrasty quality that I'm guessing to due to Herculean efforts to spruce up some special effects that were state-of-the-art 50 years ago. The matte lines and grains are much less noticeable now and the animated sequence (I'm just as sorry as I can be, Mrs. Travers) glows with color. Mary Poppins, by the way, has finally been added to The National Film Registry (somebody must have told them, "Spit-Spot! Get to it!"


Gene Autry was not only King of the Cowboys in the mid-20th century, he also is still one of the best selling recording artists of all time. He recorded the original "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," "When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" and "Here Comes Santa Claus," which he co-wrote. This series is just a part of his entertainment empire, which you can glimpse in one of the many bonus features (and see momentos of at LA's Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage. The Gene Autry Show is a lot like Scooby-Doo: there are only a handful of plotlines, but who cares because you just want to watch him and his sidekick (Pat Buttram) bring baddies to justice. Some stereotypes are on a very few episodes (amazing considering its age), but overall it's a cozy slice of Americana. Some are even in color and remarkably well preserved.


For Marvel fans impatient for the next movie, this nicely constructed animated adventure is an exciting adventure. The action is virtually non-stop, but when there is a brief respite, Hulk and Iron Man bicker like Martha and Gertrude at the Automat. There are a few bonus features, including the very funny re-voiced "Marvel Mash-Ups" that make gentle but ridiculous sport of earlier Marvel TV cartoons.


It isn't really the holiday season without squeezing in as many Rankin/Bass specials as you can. The first special in this Warner Archive release, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, is based on the book by Wizard of Oz scribe L. Frank Baum. It's a fitting way finale to the Rankin/Bass canon of stop-motion animated specials, as it combines the whimsy of Rudolph with the mystical fantasy of The Hobbit, drawing both aspects of R/B together (the voice cast is also that of ThunderCats). Nestor is based on another song by Gene Autry (see above), with a very amusingly caricatured Roger Miller telling and singing the story of a misfit who triumphs over his "non-conformity." The animation for this special is especially smooth, (SPOILER) but be warned that there is a sad, Bambi-like moment.


My favorite of the early Muppet films, The Great Muppet Caper was Jim Henson's feature directing debut. The score by "Bein' Green" composer Joe Raposo is the old-school Hollywood extravaganza type, with some major production numbers including a mammoth Esther Williams tribute that actually topped Mel Brooks' similar number the same year in his History of the World, Part 1. Plus it's got Diana Rigg. 'Nuff said. Muppet Treasure Island was the second feature after Jim Henson passed and though very entertaining with the dependable comic chops of Tim Curry, The Muppets were starting to chew their cabbage more than twice here. Both look spiffy on Blu-ray.


First of all, the first two volumes of this priceless DVD series are required if you love The Muppets, clever comedy timing, imaginative use of limited resources and pure talent. Burr Tillstrom's puppets stop being puppets after only a few minutes, thanks in large part to the golden-voiced Fran Allison, who makes us all believe. Forget the picture quality and little cramped stage: Burr and Fran turn it into the Tardis.



Speaking of Tardises (or is it "tardi?"), you can't go wrong with Murray Gold's magnificent music for the current crop of Doctor Who series that have really taken the world by storm in a way I can't recall since The Muppet Show. Gold's score for season seven (and also several Christmas episode scores, also on CD) are varied, ethereal, dramatic and as "big" as the galaxy.


The Deluxe Edition Soundtrack Album of this very special film not only contains Thomas Newman's masterful score -- weaving his own compositions with interpolated Sherman songs -- but also includes several Sherman Brothers song demos and what is, in effect, Poppin's Greatest Hits. Plus, you can hear Colin Farrell's lyric read from the film's opening and the three memorable song pitch scenes with Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Tom Hanks does not appear on the album, but then, Walt himself only recorded one album for his record company (Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland).


First of all, know that there are actually TWO sound track albums for the Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff animated TV special. The first one was released in 1966 by MGM Records and combines Karloff's sound track narration with a re-created version of the music and singing. It's quite wonderful, won a Grammy Award and is the only one of the two that is in stereo. You can get it on CD on the Mercury label.

Warner/Rhino released the actual TV soundtrack on another CD many years later. You'll notice a few seconds of additional music at the beginning and end, because they originally had sponsor mentions over them. A brand-new green vinyl disc of the Grinch was just released this year as well.



Few if any of even the most knowlegable Disneyphiles can read any book by longtime Disney Historian Jim Korkis and not say "I did not know that!" It's a testimony to the infinite nature of Disney's legacy that factual tidbits keep on coming, and it's also a testimony to Korkis' careful research and easygoing writing style that we get to enjoy it. This time, Jim takes on the life and times of the most iconic of animated characters, so much of a "real" being that he often transcends being a cartoon.


If I were writing a book about my career, it wouldn't be nearly as amazing as Floyd Norman's but it would have the same conversational tone, candid without being tattletale-ish, respectful of both the subjects in the story and the reader. As you read, you're seeing the Walt Disney Studios through his eyes as he wanders the hallways where cool stuff is everywhere. The first half of the book chronicles Floyd's journey through his Disney career; the second half is a series of observations, advice, wisdom and fascinating anecdotes. What a joy that we are able to share in all this wonder with a Disney Legend in his own words.


In addition to animation veteran Darrell Van Citters' gotta-have tome about Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, this is a must-have too. While doing research for the Magoo book, he uncovered a treasure trove of artwork, sketches, layouts and more that really drive home the talent of the artists behind the Ward cartoons. You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg if you've only seen the shows themselves.


Longtime Late Night with David Letterman writer Steve Young (who was the mastermind behind "Dave's Record Collection") reveals a heretofore undiscovered side of musical theater, some of which is fantastic, some that might have been better left covered. Industrial musicals were common in the postwar era, all the way up to the '80s. Some soon-to-be Broadway musical powerhouses (like Bock and Harnick, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof) started their careers with these shows, which were surreal ways to get sales people excited about everything from cars and household notions to toilets and tractors. If you ever saw a live corporate sponsored show at a World's Fair, you get the idea. 

Blu-ray/DVD REVIEW: The Lone Ranger
Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 17 2013 by Greg

Sometimes I like movies that are largely considered to be stink bombs. John Carter: flawed but not as bad as many said. Santa Claus the Movie: far from perfect, but wonderful in many ways, especially the storybook quality and Henry Mancini's score. Lost Horizon: misfires aplenty but a fine cast, kitsch value and some catchy tunes by Bacharach/David. And so on.

So I tried to find something to like in The Lone Ranger. The opening, with the boy at the carnival (and the "thrilling days of yesteryear" reference to the radio show) was encouraging. But it just never picks up. Much as I tried, how do I not love thee, Lone Ranger 2013? Let me count the ways...

1. Uneven balance of drama, comedy, send-up, fantasy, sick humor, bawdiness and western melodrama. This could be the first Disney film in which someone is seen peeing on camera. Not long after, another character vomits. Then Silver (as in Hi-Yo) poops and The Lone Ranger himself is dragged through it, head first.

2. The lead character is an idiot. It's as if Jeannie blinked Major Nelson into a very expensive episode of I Dream of Jeannie. The difference is that even Larry Hagman would have played it less silly.

3. Like John Carter, they hung a multi-million-dollar movie on the shoulders of an untested lead actor. It took two Armie Hammers to make a Winklevoss. Perhaps he can redeem his lead status in a future vehicle. Taylor Kitsch is now a supporting actor.

4. Johnny Depp. Plenty has been said about his performance, but I wonder whether the whole concept couldn't work no matter what he did. His Tonto is very much like Jack Sparrow, only his voice sounds like Rob Schneider in Bedtime Stories.

5. Sweaty, yucky, grizzled, bulbous, bloated, scuzzy people, all except for Armie Hammer, followed by the angry-eyes lady who plays the unhappy mom of P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.

6. Never release a movie in the heat of summer and show a lot of overdressed people who look like they're either in need of a bath or about to pass out, as well as people who look like they need to be hosed down. Another John Carter mistake.

7. Way too much money spent. (SPOILER) As soon as I saw the bridge -- a REALLY big bridge, I knew it would get blowed up real good and come tumbling down. Gene Autry could have made 30 episodes of his TV show,  four movies, six radio shows and a record album in the time it takes to watch this movie. Surely there's a point in the middle.

8. Way too long. An issue with a lot of movies nowadays, though.

9. This is the first time I've ever seen bloopers that mostly could have been in left in the movie without it making much of a difference. Not being facetious.

10. Cannibal bunnies.

Good points: Johnny Depp's performance as the old version of Tonto is the closest any character comes to being sympathetic (though he looks like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man or Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night). Breathtaking photography. Armie has nice hair when it hasn't been dragged through horse poop. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Is it worth seeing? Well, I couldn't turn away. There's something compelling and astonishing about a work of this magnitude gone astray. My wife, who loves to see a good western, would still like to see a good western.

Clearly this film was intended to do for westerns what Pirates of the Caribbean did for pirate movies. As a genre, they're still too problematic in this day and age to work. And this film's very visible lack of success doesn't bode well for another attempt of this nature to happen anytime soon.

Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People, Music, Downloads, Records, Books
Posted on Dec 02 2013 by Greg


Both sequels are on Blu-ray for the first time, along with two DVDs with each film. The first sequel, Return to the Sea, boasts many of the same cast members as the original film including Disney Legend Jodi Benson, but the nice songs by Patti and Michael Silversher are too few and the plot is a retread of the first story. This time we get a skinny version of Ursula and Disney’s version of Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley. Plus, Ariel and Eric are put in a situation very frustrating to the viewers as well as their daughter, Melody, but being brick walls about everything to do with Ariel’s magical past. Plus, in limited animation, Eric looks even more like the David Seville of the ‘80s.

The third Little Mermaid film (second on this set), Ariel’s Beginning, is a far superior film with a more solid storyline without delving into set pieces to extend the film length. We also get to know Ariel’s sisters better and meet a more original villain, amusingly named Marina Del Ray and superbly voiced by Sally Field, singing for the first time since The Flying Nun. Even the extras are better on this film. The animation is startlingly fluid for a direct to video production. Make the whole package worth it.

Disney has taken a few jabs for putting what was originally planned as a direct to video feature and releasing to theaters, but Walt Disney did just that with Johnny Tremain and several other of his live-action features which either turned out better than expected or ran over budget.

In the case of Planes, the budget was upped and though the film seems to dreamily ramble a bit, it was clearly an attempt to attract more of the male sector of the audience and it succeeded tremendously. I’m not a big Dane Cook fan, but he does a creditable job as Dusty, a crop duster with a fear of heights, a character much more likable than Lightning McQueen in Cars. John Cleese turns in his usual scene stealing best as a jolly old British plane. Looks wonderful in HD on a big screen.


It's nice to have these shows on DVD after wearing out my VHS tapes, which sometimes were recorded at EP and looked ecch. The 1977 A Flintstone Christmas special is of particular interest, coming at a time with The Flintstones and Hanna-Barbera were enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

It's also a musical special with songs that also popped up in other H-B Christmas specials. "Hope," sung by Wilma in this instance, is a cousin to "When You Wish Upon a Star" and was sung by Boo-Boo in Yogi's First Christmas. "Brand New Kind of Christmas Song" did originate in this special. Both this song and Boo-Boo's "Hope" can be heard on the Hanna-Barbera Christmas Sing Along sound track album.

The second special on this collection, A Flintstone Family Christmas, came after Turner acquired Hanna-Barbera and there was another resurgence with new merchandise and some really fine books, including a hardcover based on this special, which was nominated for an Emmy, a first for The Flintstones.

Depending on where you lived, this dubbed Japanese cartoon series ran in syndication between 1967 and 1969. What’s interesting about it is that members of the Speed Racer cast does the dubbing, including Speed himself, Peter Fernandez. The music sounds to me to be composed by Billy Mure, who scored many MGM children’s records with Fernandez and the same cast.

“Marine Boy” is sort like “Jonny Quest” underwater. For some reason, even his dad calls him “Marine Boy.” But then, did Speed's parents give him that name at birth? Guess both were endearing nicknames.

The stories in Marine Boy are not as complex as some Japanese TV cartoon imports of the era, so younger kids will likely follow along nicely. The animation looks to me to be that Korean traced stuff that Warner/Seven Arts did with Porky Pig cartoons, though a little neater. I can’t confirm that as a fact, though. It’s just that the draftsmanship is not what I’ve seen in similar cartoons. But what a groovy theme song! There are actually two of them, and I like the one with the “oooooo’s.”


This is from the 1961 live action fantasy starring Annette, Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn and a very young Ann Jillian. It’s not the sound track but a “re-creation” with slightly different orchestrations, produced at Tutti Camarata’s Sunset Sound Studios.

It is not available on CD (though the Disney Parks did offer CD-R’s for a short time years ago). You can download it—with a pristine restoration by Walt Disney Records’ master producer, Randy Thorton—on iTunes.

SANTA CLAUS-THE MOVIE Original Sound Track Album
Though I love the movie and enjoyed it when it was released, not everyone does. Regardless, the magnificent score by Henry Mancini is one of the best “traditional” music and song scores of the ‘80s, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and a pop solo by Sheena Easton (“It’s Christmas All Over the World”) that should get more airplay.

Be careful when ordering this album on CD, as you’ll want the expanded edition, not the single album on CD. The expanded edition has everything the original EMI LP had plus many more pieces of music that couldn’t fit on the vinyl disc as well as alternates and deleted selections and an interesting booklet.

MARY POPPINS Special Edition Original Sound Track Album
You know that tape recorder you see taking in what happened during those meetings with the persnickety Ms. Travers and the supercalifragilistic Shermans? You can hear many of the REAL ones on disc two of this glorious sound track album.

The aforementioned Randy Thornton pretty much put the entire musical score on this album for the first time and it should be in every home.


Speaking of the Shermans, the landmark songs from their history making career are contained on two discs here. There's even a non-Disney film represented in this collection, with the Oscar-nominated theme from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was tthe brothers’ first outside film, done with the approval of Disney. On this collection, the great Mike Sammes Singers perform the song. Every home should have this, too.


A meticulously detailed portrait of the man behind the Muppets, unlike anything published before. Lengthy yet a brisk read, the book covers the length and breadth of Henson’s life and career in a matter-of-fact, clear headed way, without the armchair speculative psychology of other bios of others (you know which ones).

Few will read this and say, “I already knew ALL of that” or they’d be fibbing.


INSIDE THE WHIMSY-WORKS: My Life with Walt Disney Productions
Disney Legend Jimmy Johnson rose from the mailroom to merchandise and from publishing to launching what is now Walt Disney Records. He wrote this memoir in 1975 but it was never published until now.

This is one of the very first insider looks at what is was like working for Disney from the Snow White days to the opening of Walt Disney World. I know this is a blatant plug and you have to pre-order the book because it won’t be sent out until February 2014, but please consider getting a copy and wrapping up the amazon description as a lovely thing to place under the tree.

DVD Review: OLIVER! from Twilight Time
Blog, Movies
Posted on Nov 16 2013 by Greg

Oliver! is one of the last of the internationally successful family musical extravaganzas of the ‘60s. After Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music became such megahits (both as movies and as sound track albums), a parade of expensive, episodic movie spectaculars hit theater screens (most at higher, reserved seat ticket prices) that usually had intermissions and very long running times.

Most were financial disappointments (Hello Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle), some did very respectable business (My Fair Lady, Funny Girl) and others gained respect and admiration over the years (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Finian’s Rainbow).

But Oliver!, which had already become a Broadway and West End hit (and has since entered the canon of much-revived classics), made the very difficult transition from stage to screen. Dickens is a font of infinitely filmable stories anyway, but musicals based on stage hits did not always survive the adaptation. Oliver! succeeded beyond many of its kind.

If you like Harry Potter, Oliver! offers a rags-to-riches twist on a similarly British series of contrasting existences. It’s like Annie (or rather Annie is like it), but with bigger and more stringent messages of compassion and cruelty, haves and have-nots, cold-blooded evil and sacrificial love.

The duality of the film is exemplified most visually in its two gigantic ensemble production numbers: “Consider Yourself” and “Who Will Buy?” The former turns the poor working class labor districts of Victorian London into a kid’s playground through Oliver’s eyes. The latter is the flip side of the economic coin, without the hypocrisy of the workhouse governors and instead with the elation of a new day in a setting that suggests, again to a naïve young boy, how joyous life can be. Both are almost overwhelming in their sheer size—few if any musicals had so many musical performers onscreen at once since Busby Berkeley.

Put all this into the context of the turbulent release year of 1968 and it should come as no surprise as to why it resounded so strongly with the public, the critics and the Motion Picture Academywinning six Oscars including Best Picture. Dickens’s work railed at the injustices of society, especially the effect it had on children, but it also had humor and colorful characters.

The world of the late ‘60s saw war and unrest, yet at the same time, mod designs and wacky Laugh-In escapism. Oliver! managed to thrive within the “new Hollywood” sensibility in the idiom of the traditional popcorn-cruncher. To today’s viewers, with today’s social and economic issues (as well as the international fascination with the temporally distant yet relatable world of Downton Abbey), Oliver has lost none of its relevance.

Stylistically it’s as meticulous as the film version of West Side Story in managing to give even the grittiness a Technicolor glow. The slums have the same narrowing, “closing in” feel as the tenements where Tony and Maria sang “Tonight.”

Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is pure gold for all the above reasons and more. I’ve never seen the film's details, especially on a home screen, as on this new disc. Even in 1968, you most likely would have had to see Oliver! in a reserved-seat theater with a great widescreen print, properly projected, to see all this detail, and even that's debatable. While there is still a bit of flicker in the image on occasion, especially in the lighter scenes, I love being able to make out every square inch as much as possible.

But the real gift is in having the isolated sound track music. Oliver! had a fine, lengthy sound track album originally on Colgems Records (label of The Monkees and The Flying Nun). When RCA remastered it a decade or so later, the reverb was removed and it sounded better.

But it never had the space to fit all the music from the film, so you lost most of the opening music and parts of songs like “Oom Pah Pah” and “I’d Do Anything.” It has not proven economically feasible, at least in the near future, for a record company to release an expanded sound track album (though I keep wishing). However,  having the entire score to enjoy on this Blu-ray (even though it was not possible to find the tracks without sound effects), is a glorious thing indeed.

I was about the same age as the onscreen Oliver when I first saw this movie. We were already singing the songs in grade school and I had memorized the sound track album. Jack Wild was a star among kids who watched him on H.R. Pufnstuf each Saturday morning. The film had a profound impact on me: the immensity, the epic story, the comedy and drama, and the devastating last reel in which the film becomes like a Hitchcock crime thriller.

Being able to share the movie with my kids was among the wonderful moments in my life. It’s best to wait until the children are out of the early school years so they can handle the sorrows and the joys of the story, as well as being old enough to discuss the social setting, the wry humor, how much things have changed—and how little has changed in some ways, too.

Bonus Features:
• Isolated Score Track
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Meeting Oliver!
• Meeting Fagin!
• 8 Sing-alongs
• 3 Dance Instructions
• 3 Dance & Sing-alongs
• Original Theatrical Trailer

DVD REVIEW: Monsters University
Blog, Movies
Posted on Nov 08 2013 by Greg

Disney•Pixar’s first prequel plays around a little with the mythology of the Monsters (which is fully explained in the fine audio commentary), brings Mike Wazowski more to the forefront and ups the onscreen creature ante from about 25 to more than 250.

Many have opined that Monsters University cannot pack the emotional punch of its predecessor. Let’s face it, without an adorable little girl like Boo, the emotional is at least different if not as intense.

Mike is actually a more sympathetic character than Sully, who has had everything handed to him throughout life and learns that effort is necessary to really succeed. We also get a few origin stories, particularly focusing on creep-in-the-making Randall.

Too many recent animated features seem to have a checklist approach to the supporting characters, rehashing “types” rather than coming up with something new. Not so here, with such new friends as middle-aged Don, the kind of guy you might meet in night school.

The voice cast is, as always, impeccably cast with recognizable names chosen for what they bring to the characters and story, as well as the best Hollywood voice actors rounding out the ensemble.

Randy Newman’s score is a little different from what one might typically expect. There’s quite a bit of the college pep rally sound – and a main theme that reminds me of John Williams’ theme to Steven Spielberg’s 1941.

Like the best Pixar Blu-ray packages, this one is loaded with superb extras, so much so that I have annotated the list. You can really get a feel for the creative process at the studio, minus the “look where we get to go” feeling that some other features seem to engender among those who will never trod in the same footsteps. Instead, the Pixar staff shows their human side in a way that is sure to affect many an aspiring, struggling person of any age. Even Don.

Blu-ray Bonus Features
• The Blue Umbrella (short)
• Audio Commentary
• Campus Life:
Dan Scanlon and the staff in a typical day at Pixar during the making of Monster University
• Story School: Very interesting examination of how the story for Monsters University was developed
• Scare Games: Pixar employees play games as a group to get to know each other and create the atmosphere of the monster scare games
• Monthropology: Examines the vast array of monster types that inhabit this film and how many more there are (by the hundreds) than there were in Monsters, Inc.
• Welcome to MU: The archway that leads into the campus and overall set design of the film
• Music Appreciation: Randy Newman, the orchestra and music team, speaking a language only musicians understand, create the musical score
• Scare Tactics: The acting aspect of animation and how the animators paralleled the monsters learning their craft in the film
• Color and Light: Meticulous details about how color and light are created to accent the characters and scenes
• Paths to Pixar - Monster U Edition: Members of the film’s creative and administrative team talk about their first jobs, striuggles and failures that formed their journey of life and career, emphasizing that it’s never easy and the path is never clearly mapped out
• Furry Monsters: A Technical Perspective – How the monster hair creation developed over the years and an easy to understand look at how it was done for this film
• Deleted Scenes: A staggering amount of very entertaining animatics for scenes that were great but just didn’t fit into the movie. I especially like the drama class skit.
• Promo Picks: Original animated snippets that appeared as short promos
• Set Flythroughs: First person camera-style journeys through the settings (sort of the like the opening shots of The Sound of Music). A really nice extra feature because you see so much more than was possible within the actual film

DVD Bonus Features
• The Blue Umbrella (short)
• Audio Commentary


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