Unsung Heroes of Animation

In this clip from Siskel & Ebert, Gene Siskel throws out the names of the directors and songwriters for The Little Mermaid, noting that, although they will be legendary figures in years to come, they’ll still be unknowns during the filming of this clip (1989).

This is something that I’ve found to be very true. Heroes of animation are only ever recognized decades after their accomplishments. Unlike most actors, artists, and other performers, animators do not get the same instant-gratification. It takes time for animated films to become masterpieces, and it tends to take longer for the people behind them to become icons of the industry.

Only recently has animation gained a fanbase. In the past, animation was a bit of a cult phenomenon limited to buffs and industry professionals. Twenty years ago, Glen Keane was just a superb supervising animator, but today, he’s the quintessential artist that every aspiring animator looks up to. Not much was known about Howard Ashman in the past, but today, thanks to the reverence of those who’ve worked with him, he’s revered as a Walt Disney figure of the 90s.

This is because it’s not the people behind the films who are necessarily important. They create the movies, the shows, the shorts, but it’s the characters who are the stars.

As Don Hahn said in Waking Sleeping Beauty:

“In the end nobody’ll remember who did what to who. But they will remember the characters who leapt from a pencil onto the screen, and into the hearts of the audience.”

And that’s what aspiring animators should aspire towards. Not to their own fame, but to the fame of their characters.

PBS Avengers

At the beginning of the year, I posted a picture of some educational public figures with the caption, “Some men just want to watch the world learn.”

A couple weeks ago, this spoof of The Avengers debuted on YouTube and it had me in stitches. Enjoy.

Iron Man 3 review

I did a review of the new Marvel film on DAPs, check it out!


RIP Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Roger Ebert, the ultimate film critic, has passed away.

I’ve gotten to know him over the years and consider him a hero and a mentor. Growing up, “At the Movies” was one of my favorite shows, every week I’d tune in to find out what Siskel and Ebert (and later Roeper) thought about upcoming films. Their decisions influenced mine, and it was their love of the cinema that led to mine.

One of the last things Roger told me was in regards to my career in the media. We spoke briefly (I spoke, he listened), but he gave me some great sage advice.

I mourn his death and my heart goes out to his wife Chaz, their children, and grandchildren.

The balcony is now closed.

Jurassic Park 4 story ideas

I saw Jurassic Park in 3D today and, man, I really loved it. I completely fell in love with the movie all over again.

When I first saw Jurassic Park, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t LOVE it. It was a great film and I thought it was really cool and scary but seeing it on TV or on my computer just didn’t quite do it for me. I knew there were huge Jurassic Park fans out there, but I was never really a part of that. Little did I know, the people who became huge Jurassic Park fans were the people who saw the movie in the theaters at a very young age and were hooked.

Now I know exactly how they felt. Seeing this movie not only on the big screen, but in 3D, made the experience completely overwhelming. The dinosaurs were HUGE, the famous John Williams score blared in my ears, the whole thing was an awesome event. This is the type of movie that was made for big screens. At certain points in the film, I literally felt like I was on a theme park ride, what with the silhouette of seats in front of me, the 3D glasses making the movie look so real, and the fact that the whole thing was like a dark ride. I cheered every time a dinosaur appeared on screen.

I truly think this is THE greatest summer blockbuster of all time.

While there, a friend and I were brainstorming some story ideas for the upcoming Jurassic Park 4. I came up with something rather grand, probably wouldn’t ever work, but it seems like a pretty cool idea.

One of my main problems with the Jurassic Park sequels were that both of them took place mostly on forested islands. The thing that made the original movie so great was that they were in a THEME PARK. John Hammond created this theme park and the whole idea of a “theme park gone rogue” was really neat. All the gates and electric fences shut down, security systems go kaput, and the attractions literally break free from their containment units. It took something that people find magical and serene and imbued horror and destruction into it. A juxtaposition that made it so cool.

So how do you top that? Well…the thing about the original Jurassic Park was that it was still being built. You only really saw one attraction, which was the ride tour (reminiscent of Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris) before the park shut down, thanks to Nedry.

Now what would happen if the dinosaur situation happened in a fully-functional park? Say…Universal Studios Florida. It tops the original concept by actually showing this isolated but happy world where people go to to escape the dreariness of their lives…and then flipping it with the genetic engineering of dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be cool to see a theme park like Universal Studios run over by beasts? The possibilities are endless! The protagonists hide in various attractions to escape them and you really get immersed in the experience, which is really what theme parks are all about.

What I’m thinking is that the first half of the movie starts off like the first one did. Characters go to an island or something and they stumble on the dinosaurs. Then the dinosaurs get airlifted to the theme park by some theme park antagonist jerk who wants to make a profit off of them, thinking he can control them like he controls Audio-Animatronics and ride vehicles. Chaos theory, etc etc.

Just a thought. But I really like the whole idea of showing a fully-functional theme park (rides and all) being terrorized by some mutated force of nature.It’s a really neat concept.

A thought on Disney governance

Today, the Walt Disney Company annual shareholders meeting took place in Phoenix and an audio webcast was available to livestream for those who aren’t shareholders and couldn’t make it to Arizona. Many issues were brought up to CEO Bob Iger, some of them corporate, some of them trivial (i.e. different lights for the Mickey and Friends parking lot). One of the biggest surprises for me was when Iger announced that Roy P. Disney, son of Roy E. and grandson of Roy O. Disney was in attendance.

I’ve made it no secret that Roy E. Disney was a big influence on me. When he passed away and all the news stations repeated that he was the last Disney who was actually a part of the company, I felt a tremendous sadness from head to toe. Here was the company that was, essentially, the moral compass of America, always struggling to maintain a balance between a complete creative enterprise and a capitalist corporation, and the captain of that boat passes away, leaving the rest of the crew to fend for themselves. So who’s left in charge? Corporate businessmen who rely on tables and charts?

Roy E. Disney was the man who championed absolute creativity; essentially, the Jiminy Cricket of the company. He made sure that, as Disney grew into a corporation, it wouldn’t forget its origins. One of his most famous speeches (which you can read here) criticized Disney as a brand name. Which was why, when Roy P. Disney began to speak about his feelings towards the company, I was relieved that there’s still a Disney out there who still cares. One who still champions the company’s past, its history, its legacy, its influential power as America’s moral compass. He was worried that Disney had become your run-of-the-mill Fortune 500 corporation. That all the shareholders talked about were criticisms corporate positions, criticisms on pension funds, criticisms on the liberal media bias, etc. That it was “unfortunate that this company [was] used as a podium to expose a view of some vague nuance on corporate governance”.

Whether behind the scenes or in front of it, I’m just glad that there’s still a Disney out there who’s watching out for the company that Walt and Roy created, and feels a sense of duty to make sure it doesn’t steer away from its original mission: to enlighten the world and bring happiness to everyone.

Oscar 2013 Predictions

Salutations! I’m totally stoked for the Oscars and you can check out my list of predictions here:

Wizard Victor’s 85th Oscars Predictions

Recently,  people have begun wondering why we still give out awards to the “best films of the year”. They say that things like that don’t matter anymore; they’re no longer relevant, they don’t reflect popular taste, great movies of various “lower-class” genres don’t get the respect they deserve, etc.

Well I say otherwise. The Oscars (and other award shows) provides a justification for everyone to put on a show. We all get to dress up in our nicest outfits and relive the Golden Age of Hollywood when everything was glamorous and Hollywood represented that. Though our movies have evolved beyond that, to a more realistic and (dare I say it) cynical setting, our award shows have not. Which is a great thing! Movies started out as the ultimate form of escapism, and they remain so to this day. Even though every day, terrible things happen, award shows allow us to get a glimpse of the perfect world for a day and not reflect on tragedy. We put on a show, and we put on a smile.

Furthermore, here’s a great piece that critic Leonard Maltin wrote, arguing the importance of the Oscars.

Why I love Catch Me If You Can

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that “Catch Me If You Can” is my all-time favorite film. Not favorite as in the most profound, the best directed, or with the greatest cinematography like Citizen Kane (I could go on for hours about that, but I won’t) , but favorite as in the movie I just adore to pieces despite its flaws and I will watch again and again.

I’ve made it no secret that Steven Spielberg is my favorite director. Many serious filmmakers and movie geeks consider him “shmultzy”. They use phrases like “overly sentimental” and “tritely moralistic”. Why is it that these things are looked down upon? Does filmmaking always have to be dealt with in such a serious and complex way that there are no traces of hope at the end of a reel? To me, Spielberg may be the bravest and most daring filmmaker out there and it’s because of the sentimentalism in his movies. It’s easy to look into the darkness and see nothing but darkness, but to look into that same darkness and find a small shaft of light? The underlying theme of all his films is “ultimate redemption”. It’s not just possible, but it’s inevitable.

Over the years, Spielberg has stated how profoundly an impact Disney films have made on him. Those films aspire to the same goals. And that’s why I love them both.

“Catch Me If You Can” is one of those rare movies that just instantly click with me. You have this young boy whose life completely falls apart and he escapes away from it all, his both mind and his body. He lives his dreams, yet his dreams are lies. In a way, Frank Abagnale is all of us; he represents the human spirit. We all rely on escapism and though we don’t take it to the extremities that he does, we often do so in our minds.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that Spielberg amps up the whimsicalness of the ordeal. This could have been a serious thriller or a crime film, but Spielberg decided it needed to be treated as a joyous escape. As a coping method that works so incredibly well, we see nothing but the positive in Abagnale’s acts. He is one of the most sympathetic characters Spielberg ever had to offer. He’s living in a fantasy and we see that fantasy come to life through the way he acts and interacts.

The greatest thing is that it’s so effortlessly watchable. The score by John Williams is in complete contrast with the ordeals that Abagnale has to face, and it brings it up to a whole new level.

In fact, all of my grade-A favorite movies have that same message of the triumph of the human spirit. They all feature vulnerable and accessible characters with such human qualities that we can’t help but relate to them. E.T., The Terminal, Lilo & Stitch, Wall-E, Big, these are some of my personal favorites.

Tony Baxter becoming a WDI consultant

Crazy stuff this week! After 24 hours of rampant speculation, Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter released a statement saying he would be stepping down from his position as the senior creative president of Walt Disney Imagineering and becoming a part-time advisor and mentor to future Imagineers.

You can read about my encounter with the man here on DAPs Magic.

To me, Tony Baxter represented all the great qualities of being an Imagineer. A diehard fan of Disney, a creative person who constantly wants to invent and improve, and someone who won’t take no for an answer.

For myself and my fellow Disney fans, it’s just as poignant as when Glen Keane left Walt Disney Animation. Both of these guys were second-generation Disney employees who were directly mentored by the men who worked under Walt Disney for years. Both then used their experiences in their field to train new creatives and pass on the baton. Tumblr user ‘epcotexplorer‘ pretty much summed it up here:

Quite honestly, in nearly a lifetime of Disney fandom, and in being an active member of the community, no news has such a profound effect or caused such a reaction amongst myself and my peers. This reaction is apparently poignant and meaningful, as it illustrates the impact that Mr. Baxter had on Disney. Tony Baxter has been with Walt Disney Productions for 47 years, and in that time has left an indelible mark on the entertainment and art found within.

Tony Baxter is the Imagineer that spearheaded EPCOT’s iconic Journey into Imagination, perhaps the most fondly remembered EPCOT Center experience for its delightful creativity and warmth. Dreamfinder and Figment came from Baxter’s own “sparks of imagination” and inspired generations of guests to wonder and create.  He is the man that designed the look and feel of Disneyland Paris, one of the most ornate and organic examples of a Magic Kingdom. Mr. Baxter thrilled us with Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventure, Disney’s take on cinematic adventure and calamitous caper. And Tony Baxter was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Claude Coats, Marc Davis, and John Hench and absorbed their pioneering spirit into his own outlook and work for WED Enterprises.

And THAT is why Tony’s transition of power is looked at with heavy hearts, this afternoon. Tony Baxter’s efforts and involvements and creations within Imagineering were the bulwark of unique and astonishing experiences that cemented Disney into into our subconsciouses and our hearts. Such sanguine pathos is rarely found in an artform so fleeting. But Tony Baxter’s work, be it exciting, or inspirational, or static, became part of the iconic sinew that creates what makes a day in Disney so hugely relatable and comforting and downright fun.

The Importance of Alan Menken

There’s nothing like listening to Alan Menken sing his own songs. Demos always take my breath away because the original composers put so much of themselves into their songs that there’s no way all of that will ever make it into the studio recordings; something will always get lost on the way.

But listening to guys like Alan Menken and Howard Ashman sing these songs…there’s just something magical about it. Especially the work that Menken and Ashman have done. When you listen to them sing, they become the characters. There’s no doubt that Howard Ashman is a mermaid pining for land, or that Alan Menken is dreaming of seeing the lights up in the sky.

These songs are so accessible and vulnerable. They reach into your heart, give you a big hug, and a reassurance that you’re going to make it in life. There’s no subtext or deeper meaning to them because they’re so vulnerable and open that you instantly feel what they’re presenting to you.

Alan Menken and Howard basically invented the “I want” genre of music. Before them, songs were fantastic, but they were not beautiful. Beginning with God Bless Mr. Rosewater, they brought such closeness between their characters and the audience that the fourth wall was broken. Although the audience was watching what was happening on stage or onscreen, they saw themselves as these characters and felt what they felt. They pined for the same things, longed for the same desires, dreamed of the same dreams.

There is a greatness to Broadway musicals that Alan Menken brought to the silver screen and especially animated features. A musical mentality with six tent pole moments that define a story. These six moments clearly define how you’re supposed to feel in each scene. And guys like Alan Menken and Howard Ashman made it so.

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