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MUSIC AND RECORDINGS

Think of a wonderful film...any happy little film...and this might pop into your head
Blog, Movies, Music
Posted on Feb 15 2013 by Greg
With Peter Pan, Walt Disney enjoyed something he could not with Alice in Wonderland, even though both were established through books, plays and other versions. While Alice defied interpretation (though I contend Disney's still comes the closest of all films), Peter Pan seemed to work perfectly as a Disney animated feature and has been one of the studio's most consistent crowd-pleasers.

Except for the "What Made the Red Man Red" sequence, which veers precariously into politically incorrect territory (especially the song lyrics), Disney's Peter Pan is very contemporary in many ways, particularly in its approach to the story as part fairy tale / part Archie comics triangle. I say this as a compliment, as I love Archie comics and the infinite way they expound on a series of simple themes, particularly the love triangle.

In Disney's Peter Pan, the little girls all seem to have matured into young ladies eager to be the one who captures Peter's heart. Wendy is like Betty, Tinker Bell is more like Veronica. (I guess that might make Hook like Reggie).

In a way, Peter isn't so much a child who doesn't want to grow up, he's an adolescent who doesn't want puberty to hit, much as today;s young boy whose voice is changing might keep choosing video games over girls until nature takes its course (though he never gives up the video games even as an adults). This Archie-like love triangle is standard operating procedure for much of today's youth-targeted films and TV, as it is in many grown up rom-coms.

One of the most interesting among the many bonus features (this one from the earlier DVD release) is a storyboard of a deleted sequence in which Wendy and Peter are about to part and the dialogue gets so romantic it might have been a scene from An Affair to Remember.

Speaking of bonus features, those who are not into Blu-rays will notice from the list below that the lion's share of extras are now only on the Blu-ray. You might want to keep the 2007 edition just in case.



However, unless you get the Blu-ray Diamond Edition, you're missing a lot of wonderful, colorful "Mary Blairyness," in addition to other magnificent sights in the crisp, vivid Blu-ray picture. (You can also get it with a digital download disc and storybook app.) I love the scene in "Following the Leader" in which the boys march into a field that towers over their heads. The bright yellow is striking.

By the way, the singers of that song are the Bob Mitchell Choir, who sang in Going My Way, The Flying Nun and hundreds of other Hollywood TV shows and movies. The late Bob Mitchell also used to play the organ at ball games.

And that flying sequence -- I don't care how 3-D movies get, there is nothing like that last flight off Big Ben out over London and into the otherwordly dimension where Never Land exists. One of the best aspects of Disney's version is how it avoids being literal about dream versus reality. Everything is nicely vague and left to the imagination. Too many films ground everything in a stark reality -- even fantasy films!

Besides the delightful feature, don't miss the 40-minute featurette, "Growing Up with Nine Old Men," another holdover feature from the earlier release. It's a charming, warm and memorable way to get to know the families and lives of these great artists in a very human way, thanks to Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas.

Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

Growing Up with Nine Old Men
Deleted Scenes: The Journey Home; Alternate Arrival
Deleted Songs: Never Smile at a Crocodile; The Boatswain Song
Classic Bonus Features (from previous release):
• Disney Song Selection
• Audio Commentary
• Deleted Song: The Pirate Song
• Never Land: The Lost Song
• Never Land Performed by Paige O'Hara
• Second Star to the Right - T-Squad
Classic Backstage Disney (from previous release):
• You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan
• In Walt's Words; Why I Made Peter Pan
• The Peter Pan That Almost Was
• The Peter Pan Story

2013 DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features
• Intro by Diane Disney Miller
• Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale



Also, the superb soundtrack album is available on DVD, there's a new "Songs & Story" version and a new edition of Disney's "Lost Chords" series (with digital booklet by Disney artist/historian Russell Schroeder) available for download, in which several deleted songs are presented in their original demos and in new stereo versions.







MORE GOLDEN GOODIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Blog, TV, Music, Records
Posted on Nov 19 2012 by Greg
One of the nicest things about the holidays is that music is allowed to have the variety it had when I was growing up. You have rock, blues, jazz, easy listening, you name it, all playing together in the form of various artists enjoying their spin on either favorite holiday carols, well known songs or original tunes. Musically, during the holidays, when something is "retro," that means it's "cool," to paraphrase Wreck-It Ralph.



That's the glorious appeal of the new CD, A Very Merry Golden Records Christmas. The folks at Verse Music, with the input of Tony Shimkin, son of Golden Records founder Arthur Shimkin, crafted a collection that spans over two decades of the 20th century yet has its feet planted firmly in the 21st.

Like those great Columbia, RCA and Capitol holiday albums many of us collected at Goodyear, True Value Hardware, Grants and other retailers, A Very Merry Golden Records Christmas features celebrity performers, many of whom may startle you with their versatility. Vintage Golden tracks have been lovingly restored, their charm given a modern touch with such names as Cheryl Hines, John O'Hurley, Missy Pyle and even Dermot Mulroney (who sounds somewhat like Eddy Arnold). For the younger set, Didi Conn chirps songs that were once sung by the likes of Captain Kangaroo and Anne Lloyd.

Speaking of the Captain, his sidekick Mister Greenjeans (Lumpy Brannum) returns in one of several unchanged (yet enhanced) recordings, "Crackerjack Christmas," a tune I remember seeing him lipsync on the CBS show.

Four stories, three from Golden Books, are presented with fully orchestrated backgrounds by Hines, Busy Philipps and Ed Asner. In addition, a marvelous musical version of A Christmas Carol, originally told by Howdy Doody and later, the aforementioned Captain, is now told in "Toy Story's Rex" style by his voice, Wallace Shawn.

Two additional albums of completely restored Golden Records selections, with such vintage artists as Mitch Miller, The Sandpipers, Anne Lloyd, Art Carney and others, are available as Timeless Golden Records, Volumes 1 & 2.









DON'T HIDE FROM HANNA-BARBERA'S "HEIDI'S SONG"
Blog, Movies, Music
Posted on Oct 16 2012 by Greg
Timing is everything, especially when a feature film is released. When Hanna-Barbera released Heidi's Song in 1982 through Paramount, family films had become more edgy and sophisticated, while this warmhearted musical was something that might have been more widely embracned in the mid-60s, when The Sound of Music was a Hollywood smash.

It's very possible that Hanna-Barbera had Heidi's Song in the production pipeline for many years, assigning artists to it between TV series projects. I do recall a 1982 cover story in Millimeter Magazine in which director Robert Taylor (DuckTales, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Men in Black: The Series) was attached to the film and some of it being redone.

Clearly it was a difficult film for Hanna-Barbera to complete. They were clearly hoping for a Disney-type classic that would perhaps live on as an example of what they could do with the right amount of money and time. Heidi's Song does show a lot more loving care -- and a much higher frame rate resulting in above average animation fluidity by HB standards -- than most of their animation of the 70s and 80s.

Story must have been a challenge, too, but Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Taylor and cowriter Jameson Brewer really gave it their best shot. Like so many children's tales, Heidi may not have enough plot to sustaio an animated feature in the Disney tradition. Like Walt Disney, they and their artists came up with many clever ways to keep things moving and add to the plot, including subplots with dogs and cats which are, of course, Hanna-Barbera specialties.



Among the films biggest strengths is its score. Any lover of movie or show music will want to play this DVD on a stereo system to fully appreciate the scope of the music of Burton Lane (Finian's Rainbow) with lyrics by Sammy Cahn (Disney's Peter Pan, among many others). This is also the only major HB feature film arranged and conducted by HB musical director Hoyt Curtin. It's a joy to hear what he could do with a gigantic orchestra and chorus (including Hollywood's best singers including Gene Merlino and BJ Baker).

There are so many songs, though, that some of them advance the plot ("A Christmas-sy Day," for example, covers the time in which Heidi adjusts to mountain life and bonds with her Grandfather), while others suspend the story. These are delightful, but not always crucial to the story. As Disneylike at Heidi's Song is, the film has roughly twice the amount of songs and musical set pieces than the average Disney fairy tale feature.

By the way, the box claims that there are 16 original songs and there are indeed 16 musical pieces but some are reprises and instrumentals, as I have noted here:

Overture (Orchestra & Chorus)
Good at Making Friends
Heidi's Nightmare (Orchestra)
A Christmas-sy Day
Heidi
An Armful of Sunshine
Heidi (reprise)
Frankfurt (Orchestra)
She's a Nothing
An Armful of Sunshine (reprise)
Monkey Theme (Orchestra)
Imagine
An Unkind Word
That's What Friends Are For
Ode to a Rat
End Title, including "Wunderhorn" (Orchestra & Chorus)

The voice cast is not star studded, but rather filled with the superstars of Hanna-Barbera and cartoons in general, like Janet Waldo, Michael Bell, Joan Gerber, Pamelyn Ferdin, Fritz Feld, Frank Welker and others. Stage star Margery Gray (spouse of Fliddler on the Roof lyricist Sheldon Harnick) voices Heidi.

On the celebrity side, Lorne Greene bellows nicely as Grandfather and Sammy Davis Jr. brings the film to an even higher level with the excellent "Ode to a Rat," a spectacular example of design, animation and especially the dazzling brass section so associated with Hanna-Barbera theme songs.

The rat sequence near the film's end, as well as the nightmare sequence near the beginning, could be scary for the very young children. Therein lies the dilemma with films like Heidi's Song, Annie and others with a primary appeal for girls but not for boys. Knowing this, HB's team added the darker moments as well as the dog, cat, and monkey mayhem. This only makes it harder to decide if Heidi's Song works for everyone.

It sure does for me, because I love it when Hanna-Barbera reached higher than the usual level of TV animation. Personally, I think Charlotte's Web was their crowning achievement in theatrical films, but each one is a fascinating experience.

Heidi's Song makes a particularly great listening experience. The 1982 K-Tel soundtrack album, released on vinyl, was a story record that emphasized dialogue and edited the music. A full-fledged musical soundtrack album was not released.

Now that this DVD is available, it's like having a soundtrack album. Okay, the movie can be as sticky as microwaved Jujubees, but c'mon now, that "Wunderhorn" tune is pretty magnificent in full stereo! Maybe if this DVD-R does well enough, the picture can be fully restored for Blu-ray.







CINDERELLA: DREAMS (AND STEP-NIGHTMARES) ON BLU-RAY
Blog, Movies, Music, Records
Posted on Oct 08 2012 by Greg
What's the most nightmarishly terrifying scene in movie history? The shower scene in Psycho? Sure. Tippi and those pesky birds? Maybe. Moviedom's got an endless parade of horrors, most of them supernatural, many of the inhuman sort.

But I would venture that few movie viilains can quite match the level of cruelty contained in what is also one of the most beloved family classics of all time. It's that scene in Cinderella, in which the stepmother incites the stepsisters into ripping Cinderella's dress to shreds -- while she's wearing it. Moments earlier, we saw her all happy in anticipation of going to the royal ball and perhaps being treated more as a peer by her family.

Am I overdramatizing? Perhaps. But the story of Cinderella is eternal because so many of us identify with her. We've been in situations that allow others to inflict cruelty on us. Call it bullying, call it abuse, physical or mental. What Walt Disney's Cinderella did was to take a bare bones story and make us worry that it might not end happily, even though we know full well that it does. Walt Disney and his amazing artists did it by making the characters seem so real, this familiar fairy tale becomes downright riveting.



As a character, Cinderella is extraordinarily likable, a feat that cannot be said of all Disney animated feature lead characters. Usually we identify with the sidekicks -- and the Disney version has lots of them in the form of compassionate mice -- but in this film, they only reinforce our kinship with the leading lady.

As a film, Cinderella was crucial in reviving the Disney studio's postwar doldrums, so much so that its creators did as much as possible to assure its success, even to cutting the live-action model footage to match exactly what the animators had to produce, with little wiggle room (except for Ward Kimball, who apparently had relatively free rein with the mice and Lucifer, the cat).

Speaking of Lucifer, the meows and shrieks were provided by the radiant June Foray in her feature film debut. She just turned 95 last month.

The voice cast benefits also from Lucille Bliss as Anastasia (she was also Smurfette on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon), and Rhoda Williams as the stepsisters, Eleanor Audley as the stepmother (who also played Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion attraction), Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother (also the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and star of TV's December Bride among countless others) and even narration by Betty Lou Gerson (Cruella DeVil in 101 Dalmatians).

2012 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
- Diane Disney Miller Introduction
- Personalized Digital Storybook "Bibbidi Bobbidi You"
- Behind the Magic - a New Disney Princess Fantasyland
- Tangled Ever After short
PLUS All the bonus features from the 2005 2-disc DVD except:
- Cinderella Stories Presented by ESPN
- A Dream is a Wish Video - DChannel Circle of Stars
- The Making of the Music Video
- Every Girl Can be a Princess video montage

2102 DVD Features:
- Diane Disney Miller Introduction
- Behind the Magic - a New Disney Princess Fantasyland
- Tangled Ever After

The Cinderella original sound track album has also been reissued in a Special Edition one-disc album and a two-disc Collectors Edition CD set that includes brand-new renditions of "Lost Chords" deleted songs.











THE GOLD STANDARD: CHILDHOOD TREASURES RETURN
Blog, TV, People, Music, Records
Posted on Sep 29 2012 by Greg
There was a time when legends like Danny Kaye, Alfred Hitchcock, Soupy Sales and Shari Lewis sang songs and shared stories on vinyl records. Often Mitch Miller directed the orchestra. This was the decades-long era of Golden Records--and now it's returning on CD and download in the form of classic original recordings as well as new versions featuring with celebrities like Ed Asner, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Silverstone and many more.

Golden Records started as 6" yellow 78 RPM records some of us played with steel needles on acoustic kiddie players. Along came 45 RPM and LP records from the Golden label in New York under the supervision of Arthur Shimkin, who would also lead the Columbia and Sesame Street children's labels.

The original Golden Records themselves may have been small in size, but their influence in the industry was huge. The first records for Mickey Mouse Club Records, Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers, you name it, they recorded or were distributed by Golden.

By early '60s, the Golden sound became more mellow under the baton of Jim Timmens. A light jazz style was the usual sound of late 60s/70s producer Ralph Stein, while at the same time Producer Howard Scott brought original musicals, folk songs and rich London-based styles to the label.

In the late 70s, Golden Records became Wonderland Records, having added titles from the Riverside Wonderland catalog and some classic Capitol albums into the fold. By the 80s, two-time Grammy winning composer/producer Dennis Scott provided some of his earliest work before moving to Sesame Street.

Then there was nothing.

The label fell into a morass of legal issues and virtually vanished. Several companies made valiant attempts to reissue the records but the issues persisted until Shout! Factory released a handful of successful albums and compilations a few years back.

Now Verse Music Group has stepped up to reboot Golden Records as a brand, as you can see on their website or Facebook page, and created a two-tiered series that satisfies those of us who love the classic recordings and introduces them to today's parents and kids in a fresh new way with current showbiz names.



The first album in this "Celebrity Series" offers the distinctive musical style many of us cherish, but remastered to crystal clarity, with the stories read by the above actors, plus songs sung by Didi Conn (Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, Shining Time Station).

Two albums of remastered and restored original Golden Records are being released in the "Timeless Series" and are budget priced, along with Halloween and Christmas collections in the celebrity series. Even if you and your young children have never heard Golden Records, there nothing else that sounds like them. For the price alone, you'd be much better off sharing these songs with your kids in this manner than hearing thin, synth versions often on current budget kids' CDs.

This is a very ambitious project indeed, with many albums coming soon in both series. If you fondly  remember the classic sound of these discs--which sold in the multi-millions in their day--hearing it remastered in such a spectacular way is like striking gold.









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