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:

PARKS & RESORTS:
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!).

PIXAR:

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.

WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS
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.

DISNEY STUDIOS
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.

Pedro:



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!