Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve, let's listen as the cast of Walt Disney World recite The Night Before Christmas...

Please note the name of the Jungle Cruise Skipper.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brave new trailer

We've been away too long with our unplanned hiatus, but the Disney Revue is ready to get back to posting. Let's start, appropriately, with a look to the future. Here's the first full-length trailer for Pixar's Brave:

What do you think?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lion King rules the box office

Audiences continue to feel the love for the 3D re-release of The Lion King, now the #1 movie in America for the second week in a row! This weekend it held off star-driven competition from Brad Pitt in Moneyball and new family via Dolphen Tale and has taken in 61.6 million so far. That's an awfully good showing for a movie that's 17 years old, has been previously available on DVD, and will be coming out on DVD and Blu Ray in a couple of weeks.

It's also another reason not to believe anyone who thinks audiences don't want to see hand-drawn animation anymore. They do, it just has to be good and attached to a compelling story.

Meanwhile, Disney's newest animated feature, Winnie the Pooh, has made 26.6 million in its domestic release. Take the right message from this Disney: We still want hand-drawn animated features, but they need to be good, from the heart, and not cynical cash-grabbing sequels (to be clear, I have not yet seen Winnie the Pooh. I'm not judging its quality, just the intent behind making it in the first place).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Avatar Kingdom

Disney made a very surprising announcement today, one that I never heard a peep about in any of the usual rumor mills. Walt Disney World will be adding a new area of the park, but it's not a land of mythical beasts like the park was originally intended to one-day add. Instead, they'll be turning to outer space, and an outside-of-the-company property...

No, your calendar isn't broken. It's not April 1st, and this isn't a joke. Don't take my word for it, you can read the official announcement on the Disney Parks Blog.

Questions and Talking Points:

1) This is Disney's answer to Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, right?

2) An alien-world themed land sounds great, and the world of Avatar is certainly visually resplendent, but... I don't know if this is the greatest fit. I guess they don't want to wait to see if their own John Carter series hits it big or maybe they're pretty sure it won't.

3) Are they this sure Avatar has long-term fan appeal? I know there are sequels in the works, but will they have the same success as the first? People (I'm not one of them) already wonder if the Harry Potter franchise has enough long-term appeal to sustain a land. There's a lot less surety about the future of Cameron's series.

4) If Disney wanted a large area based on a long-term successful sci-fi franchise, why not expand on the one they're already in bed with? Star Wars has proven to be evergreen, and there's plenty more Disney could do with it.

Viable questions, but I bet I'll forget all of them if Disney can really deliver an impressive and immersive visit to Pandora. We'll find out in the future.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Character Spotlight: Jose Carioca

Saludos Amigos was the first appearance of Jose Carioca, aka Joe Carioca, aka Ze Carioca. The affable parrot from Rio de Janeiro (Carioca, by the way, is a term meaning native of Rio) may seem like a relatively obscure Disney character to modern American audiences, but that wasn't always the case... and it still isn't everywhere.

First of all, Joe has a prominent role in three different Disney animated features: we meet him in the "Aquarela do Brasil" sequence of Saludos Amigos (1942), he returns as a full-on co-star throughout The Three Caballeros (1944), and returns with Donald in a segment of Melody Time (1948) called "Blame it On the Samba." That's three big-screen appearances by the Brazilian bird in a six year period! At the time he must've seemed like one of Disney's headline stars (additionally, he's got a blink-and-you'll miss it cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the foreman of the jury in Alice in Wonderland certainly looks and dresses like our Joe).

What may surprise you even more: in some parts of the world, he's still pretty active! In his native Brazil, Ze Carioca has starred in his own comic book since 1961, now numbering over 2000 issues! He has his own supporting cast complete with a girlfriend, nephews, friends, and foes. He even occasionally suits up as a superhero known as The Green Bat.

Somewhere along the line, they also redesigned his classic look to give him a t-shirt and (that already very-dated signature of a "hip" comic character) a backwards baseball hat. Sigh.

Joe is also a frequent co-star in comics in the Netherlands, of all places, where he often reunites with his old big-screen cohort, Donald Duck.

Jose can currently be seen in both American Disney resorts, but we'll get into that more next month when we take a look at The Three Caballeros.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'll take "Uneven Matchups" for 200 please, Alex

Imagine you live somewhere where they still have a Disney Store, and you pop in for a minute. You notice they're having a little trivia challenge in the back, with mostly kids participating, but adults are welcome too. You, being a Disney Revue reader, figure you're going to beat all the competition easily...

And then you notice 74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings is playing too!

Jennings posted this amusing recount of a trip to the Disney Store in which he beat his daughter at the trivia contest yesterday.

Here he is, rubbing it in:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade Magic: Clark Lake's Disney Raft-O-Rama

The residents of Clark Lake near Jackson, MI have been holding a Raft-O-Rama for 51 years now. This summer's theme was Disney and yielded some great results. I haven't been able to find out which raft won the contest, so I'll just pick the top three of my own choosing.

My first place choice:

This Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired raft is awesome. OK, so maybe it doesn't get the most points for creativity (turning one kind of boat into a different kind of boat), but it more than makes up for that with overall quality, ambition, and amazing follow-through. This is remarkably high quality for a homemade piece. I love the added extra touch of the smoke from the cannon fire. Top notch, Disney-worthy work.

My second place choice:
There were three versions of Carl's flying house from UP in the Raft-O-Rama, but this one is the standout. The house looks the most like the actual house, the balloons are plentiful and colorful, the Carl and Russell costumes are nice. All of that is enough to earn second place, but don't miss Kevin the bird floating behind on the ski-doo! That's the way to earn your Wilderness Explorer Badge for Awesomeness!

My third place:

The photo gallery seems to suggest that there were a LOT of 101 Dalmatians-inspired floats in the Raft-O-Rama. I can't guess why. Maybe because it's easy to costume a lot of people as the puppies? At any rate, this one works the best, with Cruella's car serving as the means of conveyance.

Check out the complete gallery and see which ones you like best here. The Pete's Dragon float... well, bless them for trying anyway. It was a nice idea. The Cool Runnings Float... well, let's just decide to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one and hope they were led by innocent intentions and poor choices, because that's not appropriate. But why so many Dalmatians? I think there may actually be 101.

Which are your favorites? And if you were entering, what kind of Disney raft would YOU have made?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

D23 Expo news: the Cliff Notes

Disney held its second-ever D23 Expo (weirdly named fan convention) over the weekend and your intrepid Disney Revue reporter... was not there. That's OK, reading through the reports online, it sounds like there weren't an awful lot of truly new announcements made this time around. Filtering through it all, here are the highlights of new info:

The Shanghai mega-castle.

Mostly recaps with tidbits of new details about projects that were announced long ago (California Adventure's upcoming Carsland and The Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion - coolest, but least surprising detail there: an animatronic Lumiere will host the Be Our Guest restaurant). The biggest reveal about the parks was info about the castle at the future Shanghai Disneyland. Lots of guests visit Disneyland and Disney World for the first time and are surprised that the parks' biggest icon is little more than a visual (California's Sleeping Beauty Castle hosts a walk-through with miniature scenes from the movie. Florida's Cinderella castle has a restaurant and a salon). Shanghai will rectify that with a massive castle with three-stories accessible to guests and a full-blown fairy-tale boat ride attraction. This castle doesn't belong to any one princess, but encompases them all (maybe they are all part owners - it's a Disney princess time share!).


Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

The biggest announcements of the convention seem to have come from the gang over at Pixar. Good news: not much about sequels! Yes, we learned a little bit more about the already-announced Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters Inc about Mike and Sully meeting in college, but we also learned about two all-new future features:

1) The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs will be coming to a theater near you during the holiday season in 2013. Director Bob Peterson explained that this movie is about a world in which dinosaurs never went extinct, and now live side-by-side with humans.

2) The Untitled Pixar Movie that Takes You Inside the Mind will follow in the summer of 2014. This movie is directed by Pete Docter who explained, " At Pixar we love to explore new worlds. We’ve taken you from the depths of the ocean, to the mountains of South America, from Monstropolis to outer space. We’re excited to take you somewhere everyone has been to, but no one has ever seen: The world inside your own mind.”

Excellent. Granted, it's not much to go on for either one, but after the glut of Pixar sequels we're in the midst of, I'm glad to hear about two original creations coming. The first sounds like the kind of movie the studio built its reputation on: a fun story for the whole family set on a different, but somewhat familiar world. The second sounds like a return to the kind of grand envelope pushing that Pixar was doing with Wall-E, Up, and short Night and Day. Docter previously directed by two favorite Pixar films (Up and Monsters Inc.), so I'm definitely looking forward to that one.

Not a lot of information from the original animation house, Walt Disney Animation Studios, though we did learn a little more about their 2012 feature, Wreck-It Ralph. This movie will star the villain of an old-school video game out to prove he can be more than what he was programmed to be. Several characters from real-life videogames will appear in supporting roles (ala the toys of Toy Story). It sounds fun enough, but it also sounds very Pixar. Disney, you already OWN Pixar. You need to have your own identity. Return to classic hand-drawn animation or figure out a different new direction. Copying your little brother is sad.

Not much news about live action Disney movies. The upcoming Muppet movie was pushed, clips from John Carter were shown, the cast of The Avengers showed up, but nothing new was announced. No word of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, no updates on the Jungle Cruise or Haunted Mansion movies, and nothing about anything we hadn't heard of before.

Dick Van Dyke did perform at the Expo, and I imagine that was the real highlight for the lucky few who got to see it. Apparently there were a lot of people attending and most events had to turn away more people than they let in.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Documentary review: Walt & El Grupo

In my review of Saludos, Amigos, I mention that the four animated segments are broken up by footage of Walt Disney and a team of artists touring South America searching for inspiration, as the film itself tells us. The documentary feature, Walt & El Grupo, however, details that there was a lot more to the expedition than that.

The early 1940s were a time of personal strife for the world (with much of the planet already engaged in World War II) and for the Walt Disney Studios (with a group of artists on strike and threatening to unionize against Walt Disney's wishes). The US government was concerned about the Axis powers reaching out to South American nations and asked Walt Disney to embark on a goodwill mission to South America as a counter-influence.

Walt wasn't interested in simply shaking hands and smiling for photographs, but offered that he would go on the trip if he could take a small team of artists with him and also use the trip as research for film projects. The government agreed, going so far as to fund the trip, pay for the film's production, and even financially guarantee it against losses.

Herb Ryman sketches a parrot in Brazil.

In addition to Walt and his wife Lillian, the eighteen-member group (the El Grupo of the movie's title), includes several familiar Disney legends, among them animator Frank Thomas, designers Lee and Mary Blair, artist Herb Ryman, story man Bill Cottrell, and Composer Chuck Wolcott. Over ten weeks, the group traveled to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Chile. They toured the countries, met with politicians, local artists, and average citizens. The attended premieres and special events held in their honor. The lived it up, but also longed for home, and drew and drew and drew.

The documentary tells this story using some of the footage taken by the group itself during its tour, juxtaposed against footage of how those locations look today. Disney experts and historians narrate the tale, along with relatives of the members of El Grupo who read the letters they sent home during their trip.

Walt joins some local dancers in Buenos Aires.

While I'm glad the filmmakers opt not to create artificial drama in the story, they seem to go too far in downplaying both the conflicts that led to the trip and the events that followed it. Both the war and, worse, the strife at the studio or only lightly touched upon to kick off the tour and rarely revisited. The outcome of the strike and the makeup of the studio Walt returned to are similarly mentioned in passing.

Additionally, there's much too brief of a mention of Mary Blair having an artistic rebirth on the trip. She leaves a very skilled, but relatively conventional artist, and comes back will a style all her own - a dynamic colorist and bold designer who becomes Walt's favorite artist and world-famous illustrator. What did Mary Blair see or feel that caused this transformation? Did she never write about or speak about the trip and how it inspired her? While we hear letters from several members of El Grupo, Mary Blair's recollections, sadly, never come up.

Mary Blair's distinctive style emerged during the trip.

Instead we get far too many lingering shots of the South American locations Walt and the team visited as they appear today. There's no context for them, really. There's no attempt to tie in current circumstances in any of these locations with the time period of the trip itself. The only serve to pad out a story that, frankly, unfolds a little slowly as it is.

The South American trip succeeds in many ways. Genuine good will is generated between America and the South American nations. Though Walt remains disillusioned by the strike, he returns to the studios prepared to move on. Saludos Amigos is a hit in the U.S. and South America (though the historians agree, it's far from a true Disney classic). The story is inherently interesting, though Walt & El Grupo occasionally loses focus and muddies the tale.

Because of the subject matter, hardcore Disney fans will not want to miss it (but they will wish it was a little shorter and sharper).

I rate Walt & El Grupo 5 out of 6 mice:

If you'd like to buy Walt & El Grupo for yourself:

Monday, August 15, 2011

A new day dawns at the sunshine pavilion: return of The Enchanted Tiki Room!

Fans of Disney parks are always bemoaning the loss of beloved park attractions that have been replaced. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has long been sunk, Horizons disappeared over the edge of the Earth, and the Skyway has flown the coop. But in a way, the change of the Walt Disney World Version of the Enchanted Tiki Room (or Tropical Serenade) to the Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management was even more painful: the building, the birds, and the tikis were all still there, but the content and spirit of the show had been completely destroyed. It was hard to stop mourning the loss while the corpse was still in plain sight.

But today - a miracle! The incredibly rare Disney attraction resurrection. Following a fire earlier this year that damaged the Tiki Room and particularly some of the New Management elements, management made the wise decision to return the show to its roots. By all reports, it's not exactly the show that it once was - the slow Offenbach number has been excised, the sing-along portion of "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing" has been cut (surprisingly, given how much interactivity is a big buzz word in the parks lately), and (worst of all) the enchanted fountain no longer rises up from the floor to join the show.

But these are minor quibbles, and therefore a huge improvement over the New Management version which was downright difficult to sit through. Gone is Iago, gone is the snarkiness, gone are the painfully unhip attempts to be more hip. The full theme song is back, the quint entertainment is restored, the birds have returned to roost. I can't wait for my next trip to Florida (whenever that may be). It'll be the first time in many a year when I won't skip the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Here's a video released by Disney with a behind-the-scenes look at the returned attraction:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vintage Disney: Mouseketeer hat magazine ad

Just for the fun of it, here's a vintage Mouseketeer hat magazine ad from 1950 (click for larger version):

According to the ad, these little beauties were going to be available at the MAGIC Style Show at the Ambassador Hotel for three days in October. I wonder if there was enough interest that they ever sold any more of those hats anywhere else afterward.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Chronological Canon: Saludos Amigos

Saludos Amigos is officially the sixth Disney animated feature film, but it's also the first that doesn't really feel like a feature at all. For those of you who have never seen it (and I bet even among Disney fans, there are a lot of you), Saludos Amigos is four different animated shorts, linked together with live-action footage of Walt Disney and his animators touring South America and showing where they found inspiration for the shorts.

While it's true that Fantasia was also an assemblage of shorts, (and that I'm not Fantasia's biggest fan either), that movie at least had surer goals, loftier ambitions, and a stronger connection between the different sections. They were also quite different from typical Disney animated shorts. What we have in Saludos Amigos, on the hand, are two Donald Duck shorts, a Goofy Short, and another starring a little airplane. The only link being they all take place in South America.

Let's look at the four shorts:

Lake Titicaca:

Donald Duck is on vacation in Bolivia and spends most of the short struggling to control a llama as they cross the Andes. There are some fun antics along the way, but even for a Donald Duck short, it's not a particularly strong one.


The story of a young airplane that has to fill in on a treacherous mail run when his father is temporarily out of commission. Again, it feels like a slightly below-average short. The story is really light: Pedro must fly over a mountain range, pick up the mail, and return home while avoiding the treacherous winds of the mountains. Cute, but forgettable.

El Gaucho Goofy:

Of these first three utterly traditional shorts, El Gaucho Goofy if the strongest. This one is done in the style of the classic Goofy How-To shorts in which a bombastic narrator provides educational information while Goofy attempts and fails to act out the story the narration is providing. This one is at least solidly entertaining.

Aquarela do Brasil (or "Watercolor of Brazil"):

The only sequence of this film that feels like something a little bit more than a standard Disney short. We start with a paint brush creating scenes of Brazilian wilderness that come to life once completed. Eventually, one colorful flower transforms into Donald Duck who is then on hand to witness the creation of his Brazilian counterpart, the parrot Jose Carioca. The two birds share a drink and then a musical celebration of the country. This short is the most inventive and the only one that really feels like a celebration of South America. The art is the most lovely and daring of the whole feature, and Jose is a likeable if only slightly defined character. Unfortunately, the sequence does end abruptly (and the film along with it).

And that's all there is to it. A thin bit of narration about Disney artists seeking inspiration in South America and a series of decent, but not outstanding shorts. There's nothing really wrong with Saludos Amigos (aside from the first two shorts getting a little boring), but there's not a lot really right with it either.

I give it four out of 10 Mickeys:

If you care to purchase Saludos Amigos (and the Three Caballeros) on DVD:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Attraction movie poll closes, World Showcase poll opens

The surprising (to me anyway) winner of which Disney attraction you think has the best chance of making a decent movie is the wildest ride in the wilderness, Big Thunder Mountain:

The world-famous Jungle Cruise was a very close second, and The Matterhorn and/or Expedition Everest option wasn't too far behind. Surprisingly, there were zero votes for a movie based on the ever-popular Space Mountain, and (less surprisingly) also zero for the Enchanted Tiki Room.

This month's poll focuses again on the parks, this time specifically Epcot. Which of several possible countries would you most like to see added to Epcot's World Showcase. Here's a map showing what countries are currently there:

Now head over to the sidebar and vote!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sources and Origins: Felix Salten's Bambi

If you were to describe the Disney animated feature Bambi and Felix Salten's novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods in the broadest possible terms, they would sound an awful lot alike. Both start with a newborn baby deer named Bambi and follow his as he is introduced to the world by his mother, loses her to the hand of man, and then grows up to mate and have children of his own.

There are many details that are different. Disney granted their Bambi with memorable, loveable companions, especially Thumper, Flower, and the wise Friend Owl. There are hares and owls in Salten's novel, but there have neither the personality nor prominence of the movie versions. No skunks show up at all.

The biggest difference though, isn't one of details, but of tone. Disney's movie is a full of joy and discovery, balanced by a moment of great tragedy and hardships to endure. Salten's Bambi has a few joyful moments near the beginning of the novel, but the overall balance is very different. As the chapters wear on, the tone is increasingly dark and somber. The threat of man becomes nearly constant, and aging, solitude, and depression wait on every page.

Even in those beginning stages of childhood innocence, the other forest creatures are not the sweet, respectful Disney creatures. Many are either preoccupied with their own interests or outright rude when approached. In time, even Bambi's mother grows weary of his constant need of her attention, telling to stop laying up against her like a baby and that he needs to learn to spend some time alone.

When the hunters (always called He or Him in the novel) finally come, their party doesn't just result in the death of Bambi's mother - it's an outright massacre. Pheasants are felled, other deer are killed, and poor friend hare's wife dies in desperate confusion over why she can't seem to move anymore. It's bloody and horrific, and I'm glad my first encounter with it is as an adult rather than a child.

There's a subplot that begins to suggest that humans are not uniformly evil creatures. Bambi's weak cousin, Gobo, is captured by Him rather than killed, and later returns to the forest to explain to the others how much he likes Him now. He was fed and petted and given shelter which he enjoyed during rain and winter. It soon becomes clear, though, that this time among Him has left poor Gobo both ill-equipped to survive in the wild and too stupidly trusting of Him. The next human he encounters kills him.

It's all well written and I'm sure the harsh realities it describes are a much more realistic depiction of the life of wild animals living in the forest, but I'll take the Disney adaptation anyway. Salten's novel is too bleary, too relentlessly dark. Perhaps it is true that we all suffer, grow old, lose the ones we love, lose our passion for life, and ultimately must survive alone, but that's not the lesson I want from my talking animal children's novels.

Like the movie, the novel ends with Bambi encountering his twin children. But where the movie plays that as a note of hope and a sign of the continuation of life, in the book you just kind of feel bad that these kids area going to have to deal with all the things Bambi has already been through.

Also, in the book Faline is Bambi's cousin. Ew.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fun with Bambi from around the internet

As I've said before, screenwriter/blogger/film analyst Todd Alcott has been a major influence on how I think and write about movies. He's written an excellent, in-depth analysis of Bambi's story and structure: The introduction, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

From the introduction:
What weird, artsy, pretentious, avant-garde smartass dared to make a movie with no plot and a passive protagonist? Was it Godard? Bunuel? Brakhage? No, it was Walt Disney, the man whose name is now synonymous with toothless, benign, formulaic "family entertainment." Walt Disney. Disney’s two features previous to Bambi were the 2 1/2-hour salute to classical music, Fantasia, and the gorgeous 61-minute parable Dumbo. Don’t let people tell you that Walt Disney was some kind of reactionary, conservative fuddy-duddy peddling colorful fantasy. At the top of his game, Walt Disney was the most exciting, most experimental, most daring moviemaker alive. Bambi is the peak of his art.

And now, for a less serious take on Bambi, the animated classic Bambi Meets Godzilla (in case one or two of you still haven't seen it):

Here's some footage from Animal Planet in which a Canadian photographer discovers the real life Bambi and Thumper in his backyard:

Bambi is so cute you could just eat him up, right? Especially if he was also a cake:

Funny Food Photos - Bambi Cake

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the Movies to the Parks: Bambi

For one of the great classics of Disney animation, Bambi has very, very little presence in the Disney Parks. There is no (and has never been) a Bambi ride, though Bambi does show up in one attraction in one park: it's a small world in Hong Kong Disneyland. He and Thumper have apparently wandered very far from home and wound up at the North Pole. It makes no sense, but they do get to recreate some of the famous ice-skating scene.

And... that's about it. Bambi topiaries sometimes pop up, and you can also meet Thumper and Miss Bunny, usually found in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A logical plea to return to craziness: bring back The Adventurers Club!

Just a few months ago, Disney announced plans - big on hyperbole, short on details about Hyperion Wharf, the new title and concept for the area of Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World that had once been the center of nightlife known as Pleasure Island. Last week, they announced that those plans are on hold and being reconfigured.

With that in mind, I thought I'd post my hope that Disney reverses one of the worst decisions it has ever made.

On the whole, I don't really miss Pleasure Island that much. I never set foot in any of the dance clubs, though those places certainly had their fans and they were better than empty buildings. I did enjoy the Comedy Warehouse, though it wasn't an every-trip, must-see for me. But there was one other place on Pleasure Island that was like no other place on Earth - an incredible, hilarious, and inspiring interactive, immersive comedy/musical/theater/magic show/bar known as The Adventurers Club.

Visitors to the club entered into a parlor area decorated with exotic artifacts and photos of club members off on various expeditions (along with detailed, hilarious captions). Around the back was a staircase leading down to the lower level where the real fun was waiting. Decorations became even denser and wilder - a suit of samurai armor with a diving helmet, a T-Rex skull with the skeleton of an aviator in its mouth, a replica of The Artemesion Bronze that answers the old question about what was in his hand by placing a fishing pole in it.

But even better than the amazing décor are the members of the club themselves, waiting to greet you, interact with you, and initiate you in to the club itself. There's kooky club president Pamelia Perkins, dashing womanizing pilot Hathaway Browne, sourpuss club treasurer and ichthyologist Prof. Otis T. Wren, Sassy jungle explorer Samantha Sterling, and flustered know-it-all curator Fletcher Hodges. The club is served by dry-witted Graves the butler and a saucy French made (the only character whose name changes depending on the actress). Also on hand is nerdy Junior Adventurer Emil Bleehal.

Oh, and I nearly forgot my favorite character: lewd, drunken, elderly adventurer Colonel Chritchlow Suchbench, always ready with a song or an insult. The Colonel was a puppet looking down on the club's main salon. He wasn't the only non-human character present, either. The head of a Yakoose (a rare creature whose head is mounted on the wall) would occasionally wake up and comment on the action. A huge stone head of the goddess Babalonia would frequently come to live and talk and breath smoke too.

There were two small rooms attached to the main salon where mini-shows would take place - the mask room full of talking masks from cultures around the world, and the treasure room where Beezle the genie would appear in the armoire. Then there was the library, a larger room with audience seating where the adventurers would put on more elaborate, somewhat more formal shows, along with accompaniment from phantom organist Fingers Zambini.

Maybe you begin to get the idea. There was comedy and spectacle everywhere. There was constant activity and entertainment. There was also a bar ready to fill a glass with whatever drink you ordered, but specializing in the club's signature drink, the Kungaloosh.

Disney prides itself on creating attractions in which the audience feels full immersed, surrounded by interesting details, inspired by something new and creative, enthralled by illusions, and thoroughly entertained and delighted by the characters they encountered. Never has there been an attraction that more thoroughly accomplished all of these goals than the Adventurers Club. Never.

So what happened? I won't get into the whole story of what went wrong with Pleasure Island. Maybe the idea was always a bad mix with Disney's family appeal. Maybe it was mismanaged or just in the wrong spot (smack in the middle of the two shopping areas of Downtown Disney). Maybe Disney had to make changes to Pleasure Island.

What they did, though, was just dump the whole area. And the Adventurers Club was the baby they threw out with the bathwater. It was a shortsighted and wasteful decision, and clearly wrong to anyone who had spent a few minutes inside.

Some say the club wasn't making money. This is not shocking. Beyond admission, there were only the drinks to pay for the place. You couldn't even buy snacks there. If you wanted to stay in the club for hours on end to enjoy it's many nightly shows, you likely eventually got hungry. If so, you toughed it out or had to leave the club to get food. Even some simple appetizers and snacks could've made the club money and kept people around longer. Let's say you had a great time in the club and wanted to buy a souvenir - a shirt, a shot glass, a mug, a hat, a club pin... for most of the club's life, none of these things were available. Disney, so big on their gift shops, very rarely made Adventurers Club merchandise available.

But let's pretend for a moment that even snacks, merchandise, or even increased admission wouldn't make the club into a moneymaker. Just for the sake of argument, let's pretend nothing we could think of would turn the club into a direct moneymaker. Here's an important detail worth remembering: the club did not need to make money directly to make money for the company. There were people who so loved the club that it would be an important part of deciding to spend their next vacation at Walt Disney World. There are people who, wanting to take in each of the park's evening events AND a night at the club might make their vacations at Disney World last one night longer than they would've (or are now doing) with the club closed.

The good news is this: with outside companies still unwilling to sign on to fill up the vacant spots in Downtown Disney, the club is still standing. Rumors and online reports say it's not so pretty inside anymore - most of the décor has been stripped away, some we've even seen show up at other spots around Disney World. But the club still stands. Cleaning it up and redecorating certainly isn't beyond Disney's abilities. Many of the brilliant performers from the club can still be seen around WDW. Returning them to their best use and filling in any new openings would be easily done.

You know who else would come back in a heartbeat? The fans. We're still ready to heed the call to adventure. Open the doors, pour us our drinks, and sell us some souvenirs. We're ready to recite the club creed once more:

We climb the highest mountains,
just to get a better view.
We plumb the deepest oceans,
because we're daring through and through.
We cross the scorching desert,
martinis in our hand.
We ski the polar ice caps,
in tuxedos looking grand.
We are reckless, brave, and loyal,
and valiant to the end.
If you come in here a stranger,
you will exit as a friend.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Winnie the Pooh: Harikiri or Avada Kedavra?

Did you know a Disney animated feature debuted at the theaters last weekend? It's true. Winnie the Pooh, Disney's 51st official animated feature film opened on Friday, July 15, the same day as the final installment of the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise.

Seemed like the movie was committing suicide to me, but I heard some people calling it savvy counter-programming, thinking the Harry Potter franchise had grown too dark for little viewers and that families with small children would be looking for something more family friendly to see.

What a load of malarkey.

Even though the Potter movies certainly matured over time, they were still appealing to a lot of people Disney should've been trying to appeal to with Winnie the Pooh. Even if families felt the Potter movies had become too intense for their kids, any buzz Pooh might've hoped to have was drowned out by the roar of Pottermania.

I don't know how well Winnie the Pooh might've done if it hadn't opened against the monster movie of the summer, but as it is it opened in 6th place, earning $7.8 million. That's a pretty sorry turnout for the kind of movies Disney built their empire on.

Tellingly, Pooh also finished behind two other family movies - the latest "hilarious" Kevin James fatty-fall-down fest "Zookeeper" and Disney/Pixar's Cars 2 (in its fourth week of release!).

Maybe Potter wasn't the only problem.

Whatever the cause, let's hope Pooh's failure isn't blamed on the fact that it was traditional animation. The medium is not the problem. If I was the conspiracy theorist type, I might think Pooh was placed against Potter by someone who hates traditional animation and wants it to die for good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

First look at Stanton's John Carter (and what the rest of the Pixar boys are up to)

A couple of Pixar's biggest directors have been shooting movies with actual live human beings in them Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille) has directed the upcoming fourth Mission Impossible movie, and as of today we get our first look at Andrew Stanton's (director of Finding Nemo and Wall*E) upcoming John Carter feature with Disney (no, it's not about Noah Wyle's character on ER, it's based on the classic sci-fi novel.

Get a load of the trailer here

Looks really fun, and after his aforementioned movies, I have a lot of trust in Stanton. Meanwhile, Pete Docter (Up and Monster's Inc.) is sticking with Pixar for his next movie, though we don't know just what it'll be yet. No word on if Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich will be helming another Pixar feature, but I'd be surprised if he didn't. John Lasseter, on the other hand, has his hands pretty full overseeing Pixar, Disney feature animation, and consulting on the parks (maybe that's part of why his Cars 2 was not up to standards. Don't spread yourself too thin, John!).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Chronological Canon: Bambi

In the history of storytelling, there have been endless coming-of-age stories of a boy becoming a man. Bambi is a little different, though, it's the story before that one: the story of a baby becoming a boy, of a child discovering the world.

"Story" almost doesn't even seem like quite the right word for Bambi. We're simply following a character during the first year of his life. Watching as he discovers what it is to be alive and experience the change of the seasons. Our protagonist, Bambi, has no real goals save the vague instinct to survive and to learn, and there's no real antagonist either. The presence of man is a danger, but not really a villain. Man is as unknowable a force to Bambi as the wind or the rain.

You might not think that would make a very good formula for a feature-length film, and yet Bambi is always interesting, always entertaining. There is, of course, plenty of funny business going on. The Disney animators were at the top of their game at this point when it came to filling screen time with amusing bits of animal funny business. Simple scenes like showing the variety of woodland creatures waking up in the morning or watching as Bambi and Thumper have very different experiences walking on ice for the first time are full of moments that are both amusing and delightful without ever seeming forced. Thumper, by the way, is possibly the most genuinely adorable sidekick in Disney's history.

Thumper... ON ICE!

In the decades to come, Disney would at times add unnecessary "funny" animal sidekicks who might seem out of place or their humor forced. They seemed to feel obligated to try to recreate the moments that Bambi seems to present so effortlessly.

Also, Bambi's story is both completely alien to us, and utterly relatable. He's a different species, learning to manipulate a very different kind of body. He lives among a variety of animal creatures, and must deal with the changes of weather and the seasons in different ways than we do. But for all that, the larger story is the same one we've all experienced and have seen every child experience: he's born into a world in which he understands nothing, and must learn to walk, to speak, to interact socially, to take risks, to seek shelter, to trust, to distrust, to love, and to deal with loss. In the broadest sense, Bambi's story is probably the most relatable of any of the Disney animated features.


Speaking of dealing with loss, it's also among the most heartbreaking. The death of Bambi's mother is so shocking and sad it remains somewhat controversial even today - close to 70 years since its initial release.

But what is Bambi without the loss of Bambi's mother? Without that central tragedy, the whole endeavor would become too uneventful, too cute, and too light a trifle - still lovely and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. Without the loss of Bambi's mother, we would still watch the little deer grow, but we ourselves wouldn't grow at all.

Hi, I'm your dad. Now that your mom is dead I will start caring about you.

I've come close to making a couple of absolute statement about Bambi above. "It may be the most relatable Disney animated feature." "Thumper is possibly the most adorable animal sidekick. Let me come out and make on definite, absolute statement about Bambi: It is the most beautiful of all of Disney's animated features.

Look at the light touch on those flowers and the watercolor background.

From the first frame to the last, Bambi is a gorgeous movie. The soft-edged, light touch Disney had pioneered with Snow White reaches its zenith here in the lush forest setting that is Bambi's world. Every instant is full of rich, gorgeously rendered detail. It all seems completely realistic, and yet is stylized enough to be art rather than meticulous scientific recreation.

Then, at key moments, the animators make bold choices in both form and color, using a more representational style to underline key moments. Take a few looks:

Awesome stuff.

Sadly, Bambi is the last Disney animated feature to use quite so gentle, soft, and lush an approach to its art. There are many beautiful animated features that followed, but none quite so lovely as these three, especially Bambi. Afterward, the studio had to become more mindful of every penny during the war years, and never quite returned to the rich storybook style of Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi. It's been a very, very long time, but part of me still holds out hope that they might try again someday. Until then, it doesn't get better looking than Bambi.

If I were forced to say something negative about this movie, I'd say the only thing that I don't love are the voices of Bambi, Thumper, and Flower in the final scenes, their second set of voices. They had to change, of course, but the switch is always jarring to me. Flower's new voice in particular, just doesn’t seem to fit.

But what a minor caveat this is about a great masterpiece of animation. Deceptively simple, unapologetically sentimental, endlessly endearing: Bambi is one of the greats.

I give it nine out of ten Mickey's: