BOOK REVIEWS: Over There & Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man
Blog, Reviews, Movies, People, Books
Posted on Sep 23 2014 by Greg
A new Disney Press series and a much-anticipated celebration of a Disney giant are on the way to bookshelves.
The new series allows the artists of Pixar and Disney to stretch beyond animation and express their creative visions through picture book art and text. The first was No Slurping, No Burping by Lorelay Bove (who worked on Wreck It Ralph, Winnie the Pooh the upcoming Big Hero 6, and is the first designer to create new artwork for Walt Disney Records’ Legacy Collection CD albums.
For the second book in the series, Pixar Production Designer created Over There, a gentle children’s fable about a wistful little shrew named Shredder. This simple story, carefully laid out on each page spread, takes Shredder on a small quest to find one thing and somehow finding another.
With the quiet power of its peaceful forest settings and snuggly places for the characters to nestle, this is just the sort of story for bedtime, rainy days or those times when things just need to settle down. My kids are in their teens, but they still occasionally yearn for the comfort of story time. Pilcher himself takes part in readings of his book to groups of youngsters in public storytime events.
The story is very cute (not in a treacly way), but the artwork is over the top great, reminiscent of the classic Big Golden Books illustrated by such Disney artists as Al Dempster and Gustav Tenggren. It’s a grand tradition that will hopefully continue with further releases.
Marc Davis with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, Mary Costa.
The other new Disney Press release shines a well-deserved light on Disney Legend Marc Davis’ career, which goes all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He animated Alice, Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Maleficent and Cruella DeVil. He designed characters for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and the fondly remembered America Sings attractions. He was an accomplished painter and a caring, unforgettable teacher.
Marc dreamed up enough major works to fill several lifetimes. Yet he was definitely not one of those “look at me, I’m so great, blah, blah, blah” kind of people. He was devoted to his wife, Alice (also a Disney Legend as a major contributor to Disney history as costume designer for many attractions), dedicated to Disney art and imagination, and, across the board, remembered as a genial, unassuming fellow.
His admirers include some of the most accomplished individuals in the art and entertainment industry, who along with many of us, were waiting a long time for such a magnificent book as Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man to come along. This book is their opportunity to reminisce about Marc for us, and our opportunity to look for hours at each and every vivid image in this new book—many of which seem to jump off the page.
Imagineering and Disney Legend Marty Sklar expresses his awe at Marc’s work for Disney Parks. Peter Docter, Oscar-winning director of Disney•Pixar’s Up and Monsters, Inc. presents an extensive portfolio of Marc’s concept art and pencil drawings. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King producer Don Hahn elaborates on Marc’s fine art. Veteran Disney animator and historian Andreas Deja takes us on a tour of Marc’s animal studies. Glen Keane, acclaimed animator of Ariel, the Beast, Tarzan, Rapunzel, Aladdin and others, guides us through Marc’s vast collection of sketchbooks.
And there’s so much more. Walt Disney Family Museum Creative Consultant and historian Paula Sigman-Lowery explains Marc’s fascination with the art and people of New Guinea. Author/filmmaker Mindy Johnson helps us get acquainted with the wondrous Alice Davis. Renowned animation historian and critic Charles Solomon presents a look at the unproduced animated feature, Chanticleer. Award-winning animation director Bob Kurtz recalls Marc’s skill as a teacher. There are even selections from Marc’s unpublished book on how humans and animals move (Parents’ alert: some tasteful nudes in this section.)
Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is already on sale at select Disney Parks shops and through Merchandise Guest Services at 1-877-560-6477). It goes on sale nationwide October 7. Steve Pilcher’s Over There is available now.
DVD REVIEW: Muppets Most Wanted
Blog, Movies, People, Music
Posted on Aug 19 2014 by Greg
It’s always a great pleasure to see another big-screen Muppet movie. Like the earlier film with Jason Siegel, director James Bobin makes Herculean efforts to recapture the style, flair and glorious inanity of the original Muppet Show, thus the segments of the film featuring the actual show are the most fan-appealing. All the major Muppets and some lesser-known ones get a chance to shine in the most Muppety way possible.
The new movie has lots of color, great songs, clever cameos, very savvy scripting and skillfully timed direction going for it. But there’s still something missing. A jewel heist story was already done back in the ‘70s. Muppet movies seem to work better when they satirize show business, advertising or some other ripe-for-ridiculousness institution. Granted, the stakes are much higher here than they might have been in The Great Muppet Caper. Both films even have an Esther Williams-swimming cavalcade scene, though it was more lavish in Caper.
That wouldn’t matter so much if Ricky Gervais was either a supporting character than the co-star, was given more comedy to do, or was left to improvise so he would have been as funny as he is in the outtakes. Gervais is a great comic star, but not a movie star. Nor does he have the widespread appeal to justify how much screen time his character gets. This is in no way a criticism of him nor his talent, just a comment about how he might have been better utilized.
Ty Burrell, who gets just the right amount of screen time, making one want to see more, delivers his customary screen stealing performance—perfectly teamed with Sam the Eagle. Yes, his character is a Clouseau type, but he could easily play Clouseau. Nobody does determined cluelessness like Burrell. Tina Fey also takes on a tasty comic character role as the head of a Siberian prison, with convict show tunes (and incongruous cameos) worthy of Mel Brooks.
Like the last film, the songs are perfect for The Muppets and have a quality on their own that justifies more attention than they get. It was a shame that singer/songwriter Bret McKenzie did not get an appearance on the Academy Awards telecast, since that would have deservedly raised his profile. At least he is showcased to advantage is a music video with Miss Piggy (Bret looks a little like a bearded, lanky Herb Alpert).
Muppets Most Wanted is very good, yet not quite great. There’s a lot here to love, though, especially seeing the old gang (as well as welcome newcomer Walter) doing whatever it takes to get them on screen. Even on the classic Muppet Show, some episodes were better than others but it didn’t matter because The Muppets were the main raison D’être to tune in (ain’t I continental?).
Bonus Features are fine (but no commentary, sigh). There’s a blooper reel with a funny title about it being the longest ever, maybe. Again, Ricky Gervais is funnier here than he is in the movie. I realize he was playing a villain (Mr. Badguy), but they might have added in some of his infectious laughter.
The next best thing to being there for Blair
Blog, Movies, People, Books
Posted on May 21 2014 by Greg
Cinderella, Alice, Peter Pan, Johnny Appleseed, The Three Caballeros…it’s a small world...
Only a few of the iconic Disney productions touched by the magic brush of painter, stylist, designer and conceptual innovator Mary Blair.
This multi-story mosaic mural still graces Disney's Contemporary Resort in Florida...
and her work extends into children's books (including the still-in-print Little Golden Book "I Can Fly" (below), home furnishings, advertising -- she even did the color design for the movie version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is presenting a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibit of her amazing work now through September 7.
If you have not been to this fabulous (genuinely) interactive museum yet, this is your excuse to finally experience it. But even if you cannot make it there, curator John Canemaker has lovingly assembled a treasure trove of these art pieces in a new book with the same name as the exhibit: Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair.
This new book goes to great lengths to build upon the foundation Canemaker established with his earlier book, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, which has just been reissued in a new edition. There is so much great art that you’ll be surprised to discover how little the two books overlap. In other words, yes, it’s worth having both volumes.
Mary Blair is also part of the august group of artists represented in Charles Solomon’s new book, The Art of the Disney Golden Books. Inside, you’ll see images of the worlds of Disney that you may have entered yourself through these beloved books. I know I spent hours “living” inside them.
So did animation giants such as Brave co-director Brenda Chapman, Toy Story art director Ralph Eggleston, Monsters, Inc. and Up director Pete Docter, Beauty and the Beast animator Glen Keane and Lilo and Stitch director Chris Sanders, as well as master illustrators Peter Emslie and Russell Schroeder. All of them and more offer personal and professional insights into why these books mean so much to all of us.
Like Disney Theme Parks, movies and music, you didn’t just stare passively at Disney Golden Books—you entered them and lived in their world. And you can do it now in the new book, The Art of Disney Golden Books.
“I can’t tell you how many times Mary Blair comes up in discussions, or an illustration somebody saw in a Golden Book,” says Up Producer Jonas Rivera in this book. “They really are a source of a lot of the color, inspiration and storytelling here at Pixar.”
DVD REVIEW: 20 Feet from Stardom
Blog, Movies, People, Music, Records
Posted on May 13 2014 by Greg
I'm so glad this film won the Oscar.
When you learn about Darlene Love's astonishing career, check out her performance at this year's Oscar ceremony (the one with "Adele Dazeem"). You'll give her a standing ovation, too.
As you will for the mega-talented singers who you'll also meet in this film that -- and it's about time -- gives credit where credit is due, to the mega-talented studio and background singers who toiled behind the headliners (hence the title) and/or gave the world gigantic hit performances but were robbed of proper acknowledgement.
Also after watching this film
, go back and look at the liner notes of your pop music albums. You'll see their names. Over and over again.
This documentary also questions the issue of what constitutes "stardom" and true "success." Becoming rich and famous relies on talent, luck, persistence and being at the right place at the right time -- yet some do not achieve it with all four. Yet, is a life well lived, working in a art form that you love, its own reward. Is the grass always greener? Is being content synonymous with "settling?"
I don't think being able to hold onto who are and what is dear to you is "settling." Regardless of being famous or being "niche," integrity matters, quality matters, and these artists exemplify these attributes.
Even if they aren't household names, how many of the biggest name in entertainment remembered by the general public after more than a few decades? What matters is what they have given us to enjoy and cherish. That is what lives on.
Cheers to you, great makers of music magic.
BOOK REVIEW: "Creativity, Inc." by Disney/Pixar's Ed Catmull
Blog, Movies, People, Books
Posted on Apr 17 2014 by Greg
For Pixar and Disney fans, this book is required reading because it details the evolution of Pixar, all the way to the merger with Disney -- with most of the bumps encountered on the journey.
If you wonder "How does Pixar do it?" with an unbroken record of box office hits and the pinnacle of CG animation excellence, Ed Catmull details the achievements and challenges. One challenge was actually the many big achievements.
Catmull strikes me as the "Roy Disney" or "Frank Wells" of the trio of John Lasseter, the late Steve Jobs and himself. Though he is accessible and far from a shrinking violet, he stays mostly in the background as the "business guy" and lets the people of the studio take center stage.
The hard part of reading this book -- and marveling at how Pixar combined innovative management techniques with some classic organizational tenets (even if Catmull doesn't know they existed before) to constantly address issues that never go away -- is wondering just how plausible it is to expect in other work environments.
It has to come from the top down. Pixar evolved its own heritage, which was somewhat in line with Walt Disney, but markedly different in several ways -- especially in that they don't want Pixar to fizzle with the depature/loss of an individual visionary.
But can your workplace allow a "Brain Trust" in which all could speak freely about each other's work without deference to job titles? Can the bulldozers in your group accept exclusion, as Jobs did, because they would throw the free flowing ideas off by their overpowering ways? Can human resources deal with grey areas between departments? Can one or more oppressive and demoralizing "layers" of approval (such as Disney's aptly-named "overseers," be eliminated?
You can read between the lines as Catmull gingerly explains how some could not align with their culture and thus departed. He also admits mistakes, including the fact that he cannot really know what's going on without being accessible to people beyond the syncophants, and how he is vigilant about noticing and listening rather than hiding behind pomp, circumstance and office space.
Some of the book travels into Oprah's book club "self actualization" territory with bromides and visualization exercises that are just as lovely as can be. However, I have seen this sort of thing before. The danger is if organizations use only the superficial material as a smokescreen for pretending to "embrace Pixar culture" at some blue sky meeting, give their version a cute name and launch it with "pep rallies," bells and whistles, -- and yet the organization goes back to where it was before, who is kidding who? You can't just check organizational change off a list and walk off, satisfied that it's over with.
Again, no matter what Catmull and his exceptional, insightful solutions may have done for Pixar, it must be noted that he is the head of the company. One of the most illuminating sections of the book deals with Catmull and the Pixar brass struggling through the muck and mire of a mismanaged Disney Animation. The truth is that, when a flawed administration takes command, even when it seems to have gone away, it still leaves a bathtub ring of like-minded people and ideas that sustain the previous mindset. Catmull and Company were able to cut through to the sincere people and get to the truth, even when -- I am certain -- it was cautiously guarded from them.
But could he have changed the culture if he wasn't the boss? He points out that there was a small faction already at Disney that was struggling to improve the system and creativity -- the "Story Trust." These creavtive people operated "under the radar" but could not make a difference until a change at the top blew the mucus out, allowing them to breathe freely in the sunshine. Small groups like this are everywhere. It's the smart leader that is secure enough to trust the person who isn't necessarily saying what he/she want to hear, but seeks out and trusts those who have true, constructive, caring passion for making a work environment the best it can be.
If you can do that, to paraphrase Kipling, then you've become a success, my friends.
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