You Could Make it Plainer

No, we’re not odd, its true
No fam’ly could be saner
Except one uncle who…well, maybe let that pass
In all you say or do
You couldn’t make it plainer
You are your mother’s daughter; therefore you are class

-Maurice in “No Matter What” from the Beauty and the Beast, the Broadway musical

I understand the impetus to write new songs for musicals based on animated films. Sometimes it’s necessary to expand the singing portion of the production. At other times it’s in order to solve an issue posed by the dramatic structure.

For this song, the creative conversation probably involved the desire to not only give Maurice a song, but to solidify his emotional connection with his daughter before they are separated. However, the song feels like it delays the plot rather than advances it. In addition, the film dialogue it replaces is remarkable for its casual tone. It’s a conversation that could have happened any day. Belle encourages her father by saying she’s always believed he’ll “become a world famous inventor” and Maurice expresses his love for his daughter telling her not to worry about not having someone else she can talk to because “this invention’s going to be the start of a new life for us.”

By making the characters literally profess their sanity, “No Matter What” has the effect of protesting too much. Exploring each other’s eccentricities isn’t the point of the scene, rather it is to present their unconditional love for one another. For this father and daughter to conjure the issue of social acceptance into song here seems unnecessary given the clarity and strength of their relationship which could be conveyed in a much better way as evidenced by the film. If this dynamic was in question, then perhaps the song would be more appropriate since the intended effect of song in a musical is to give voice to that which cannot be spoken. Instead, “No Matter What” draws attention to insecurities that are likely not so deeply rooted as to merit a melody.

Mostly, I just wanted to say that last line isn’t likely to catch on as an affirming adage for young women.

News: Coffee, Seattle International Film Festival, Star Tours, Rapture, Universal Studios

• You can go back to not feeling guilty about drinking coffee. People may actually live longer by consuming it.

• I always think my coffee tastes better with latte art. Fremont Coffee Company in Seattle has a photo series of these incredibly detailed and drinkable works of art on their Flickr page. Thanks to my friends at Unicorn Booty for the link.

• Also in Seattle, the 37th annual Seattle International Film Festival kicks off tonight with an Opening Night Gala at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Sadly, this is now the second year in a row that I haven’t been able to go! It was definitely a highlight of each year I lived in Seattle. If you go, make sure to share your favorite films! SIFF runs May 19-June 12.

• If you haven’t heard, the Rapture is on Saturday. That is, if you believe 89 year old Harold Camping who also predicted the Rapture would occur September 1994. It didn’t happen. The Huffington Post has a few more facts about the man and a video of the man responding to claims of false prophecy. You could click the link or shrug the whole thing off and use it as an excuse to go to one of the many “Rapture Parties” taking place Friday night.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue officially opens tomorrow at Walt Disney World’s Disney Hollywood Studios after almost a week of soft openings. In honor of the event, Entertainment Geekly posted a video of the original 1987 Star Tours attraction. The attraction will open in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland June 3rd along with The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

• Can you tell where all these hidden Mickeys are at the Disneyland Resort?

• This morning Universal Orlando Resort announced a brand new attraction based on Despicable Me will take the place of the Jimmy Neutron attraction near the gate of Universal Studios Orlando. During the same live webcast, Universal Creative’s Thierry Coup confirmed that the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction at the resort’s second gate, Islands of Adventure, would be receiving an upgrade to its 3D projections including high definition and new animation. Here’s the official video announcement of both planned additions to the parks:

News: Shanghai Disneyland, Family Guy, Steampunk, Star Wars

• Family Guy is becoming a comic book. As with many things in the television world, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it first. The second issue of the canonical continuation of that television series came out 4 years ago to the day.

• Walt Disney Animation Studios is hiring CG animators. Think there’s any way to learn the trade in about a month?

• Disney will break ground on Shanghai Disneyland-seen below in a piece of concept art revealed at The Walt Disney Company’s 2011 Investor Conference in February-at a ceremony Friday. The new 1,700 acre park is estimated at a cost of $3.6 billion.

• Facebook’s iPhone app now allows users to check in to events.

• Wreckage from Air France flight 447 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean two years ago on its way to Paris from Rio Di Janeiro has been found.

• Where did steampunk come from?

• Why are the trailers for each season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars always better than the show itself? The trailer for season 4 is now available. The quality of the show has increased immensely since it began in fall 2008, but the tone and use of pre-established character are still uneven even within the same episode. At least next season will feature a character voiced by Battlestar Galactica vet Katee Sackhoff.

• Last week, it was announced that the next Monsters, Inc. movie which is likely be a prequel would be called Monsters University. Today the new logo was revealed and is looking rather banal. I hope, as the article’s author does, that it is only temporary, but why release it now if that is the case?

The Hollywood Reporter also announced that the Disney/Pixar flick’s release date has been pushed back from November 2012 to June 21, 2013.

Play Nice, Kitties

It’s my 100th post on this blog and I write it on this cold floor in the airport while having waited over 24 hours for my plane to take me to visit my family for Christmas. Cabin fever has started to set in. Could that be why I find the following video absolutely hilarious and kind of awesome?

Is it frightening that I am excited for a movie that may never happen based on an entirely fake trailer?

And Thundercats at that?

Three more hours.

"Did it bite you?"

How awesome is this? Or rather how great could this have been had it been picked up by a studio?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Animated Series

Apparently, this is a pilot presentation that was distributed to several networks about four years ago. Lack of general enthusiasm for the show and not enough follow through by the Powers That Be led to the show simply falling through the cracks. A few scripts are still out there for the series, even one by Jane Espenson.

One keen eye over on the boards at Whedonesque suggested that perhaps this was an intentional leak by aforementioned Powers to coincide with the release of Buffy Season 8 Issue #20 that features cover art by Jo Chen in a beautiful homage to the familial, soft-edged, warm images of Norman Rockwell. The issue will also be completely drawn in the tooned-up Buffy style. I’d love to think that the reference to the animated-Buffy-that-never-existed might be some kind of way to drum up interest and support once again for the series. That would definitely be a good incentive to get up early on Saturdays again.

Read more about the development of the animated series here.

A Disney Directive

Prior to seeing Wall-E, I read one reviewer’s comments which explained how while he was watching the film he felt as if he knew how it was to see Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey in the movie theatre when they first came out-seeing the Star Destroyer moving endlessly across the screen or the psychedelic effects of the latter film. I see how the writer came to this conclusion. Wall-E is both breathtaking and a breath of fresh air.

The expansive environments presented at the beginning of the film are awe-inspiring yet somber in their depiction of a neglected world. And really, the whole film follows a similar tonality. While humanity may be at the height of its technological advancements, having produced some amazing tools, devices and machines to help maintain a comfortable existence, man has reached a plateau in its psychological-and physical-development. The results are striking.

The fact that the audience does not get a glimpse of an actual human-save for a few fleeting images on the makeshift movie screen at his “residence”-until about half-way through the movie reinforces the audience’s perception that the robots in this film, Eve and Wall-E in particular, are more human than any other character. The overweight, over-stimulated human populace is for the most part comprised of mindless masses. The one human who does rise to the occasion so to speak and seek to overhaul the cyclic nature of the human race at this point, is no more than a figurehead for the deep, meaningful ideology already iterated in, not the words, but the visuals and interactions between Wall-E and his world, Eve’s mission and of course the relationship that blossoms almost quite literally, between Wall-E and Eve. The captain of the ship, default leader of the human population is far from being the film’s protagonist-I could hardly arrive at an accurate guess of his name.

Wall-E‘s message of being pro-active about our planet’s environment is certainly clear, but it is from the subtleties of the characters’ actions that more profound truths can be unearthed. The majority of Wall-E teaches without speaking, Wall-E instructs by example. Wall-E’s daily collection of what one might otherwise deem trash at the least or trinkets at the most is a beautiful representation of the value and joy that can be found in the most simple of items and the smaller gems of life. What do we take away from every day we are given in this life? What do we leave behind? With Eve, the probe sent by the Axiom spacecraft to investigate signs of organic life on Earth, we also see inherently human behavior and psychological evolution take place within her character. “Directive” she states, over and over as she continues to scan her surroundings. She gestures toward the plant logo located on the upper left of her gleaming white torso. Her “directive,” her occupation, is in the place of her heart. When she realizes where her heart truly lies, what she is fighting for, forgoing the orders of her programming, it is a heart-melting moment. The plant symbol dims and she and Wall-E know that doing the right thing, following one’s heart, doesn’t always mean following simple orders. We are part of a bigger picture and catching sight of that is never an easy process.

I just saw Intiman Theatre‘s incredible performance of Tennessee William’s play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and in Blanche DuBois’ view of the world, however naïve, she describes “those long afternoons when a piece of eternity drops into our hands and we don’t know what to do with it.” In writing about Wall-E now, these words strongly resonated in my mind. Our minutes, hours and days are but pieces of something larger, our lives for one, but even our lives are firmly rested within the timeline of humanity. We give and take from this world, but what responsibility do we have when that moment comes when have taken too much, when the harmony we have with Earth has been thrown wholly out of balance? Wall-E depicts humans running from that responsibility, leaving its technological creations to clean up the mess, naively thinking that in time, balance can be restored. 700 years after humans left Earth, its offspring have all but forgotten how to live, much less what Earth was. In fact, when the humans finally do make it back to Earth in Wall-E, it was the only moment I took issue with the film. Does it not also seem naïve to think that with starting with one small budding plant, humans can survive, thrive and live within a symbiotic relationship with Earth? I see the need for a self-contained narrative-and I think it was wonderfully done-however, the resolution for the human race and their now desolate world is far from simple-as is the resolution for our present environmental crisis.

Wall-E is a beautiful, heartfelt film and with it Pixar and the genius present in its team of writers, artists and producers have set new standards in the realm of creative story-telling, visuals and consequential and evocative filmmaking. Wall-E is multi-layered, full of complexity, expertly crafted and moving, characteristics which few other films this year can claim.

“The Replacements”: A Brief Chronicle of Saturday Morning Cartoons

I still like Saturday morning cartoons and some other generally-kid-centric-shows that air during that time, but the selection of really good cartoons, especially on all of the four broadcast channels I receive via airwaves, has been reduced significantly since the late 80s, early 90s when I used to get up at the crack of dawn. My family used to go skiing every Saturday morning at
Stevens Pass so my friends would usually stay over and we’d get up early so that we could catch whatever was on ABC at 6:30 in the morning before hitting the slopes.

Two of the highlights were “Land of the Lost” (the remake) and “Bump in the Night,” a program filmed using claymation from the mid 90s. If you have not seen either, especially the latter, you must check them out. “Bump in the Night” aired in short segments between the more popular cartoons in 1994 and 1995. Upon revisiting this vivid childhood memory via YouTube, I have come to the conclusion that it is probably one of the more interesting/disturbing aspects of American youth culture over the last two decades.

In this particular episode, Mr. Squishington consumes a troubling item in the bedroom where the show takes place.

I seriously doubt that ABC or any other station would air this program today! I remember having a similar reaction to re-watching “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”-albeit more on the disturbing-definitely-not-child-friendly end of things-a couple years ago. I do wish they would release “Bump in the Night” on DVD, because it would make for great background programming at a party. That being said, television today is not without its kid and adult-friendly Saturday morning shows. My favorite of the moment is one that I began watching when my Saturday work schedule involved not having to be at work until 11:00AM or even Noon. I give you the opening segment of The Disney Channel’s “The Replacements.”

Building on a very simple plot device-the kids are able to call Fleemco at any time in order to solve problems or make their life more interesting by the replacement of any individual that they come across-the show is virtually limitless in its narrative possibilities (Joss Whedon’s upcoming television series, “Dollhouse” anyone?). All in all, “The Replacements” is a very clever show that appropriates from a variety of sources. The design of C.A.R. is styled after the Mach 5 of the “Speed Racer” franchise, but obviously the character is also a direct reference to K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider” as it speaks and performs a number of tricks with a multitude of cool devices. The writing is sharp and witty and of the two main characters, the siblings Todd and Riley, Todd is actually voiced by Nancy Cartwright, who has been doing the voice of Bart Simpson and a number of other characters on “The Simpsons” for who knows how many years. “The Replacements” is one of those shows that successfully caters to multiple audiences; on the surface, it aims for the 8-14 demographic but manages to engage any adults that might be in the room while the show is on. I imagine this is a way for the staff of these shows to entertain and continually challenge themselves as well.

My continued interest in this show is one that I share with my dear co-worker and fellow visual culture enthusiast KJ. The more I see the show, the more I see its merits and think to myself that were I ever involved in a kid’s show, this would be the kind of show I’d love to do.