Monday, February 28, 2011

Facial Hair February: Final Day and Deconstruction

First, the full facial hair experience.

We have this thing called a Karma Wheel on our refrigerator. And Just before removing the beard, I spun it. It looks like I planned this, but Kathy can vouch for me.

It landed on Hair Loss, which is better than Salmonella or Annoying Phone Call for sure

And so it was to be.

The deconstruction began with removal of sideburns and sundry facial hairs.

And then, well, things got creepy.

But finally, I emerged as myself once again.

Of course now it's clear that I need a haircut. But I won't be blogging about that.

Starting tomorrow, a short story a day for an entire month. How about them apples? Also, Bambi review will be up by Wednesday. Got some stuff to do tomorrow for The Phosphene, which if you haven't checked out is turning out nicely so far. I'm excited about it, that's for sure!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Facial Hair February: The Penultimate Day

Penultimate is definitely a ten dollar word.

The Big Announcement

Writer's Note - Okay, so, I thought I had scheduled this to post last night, but it looks like I scheduled it to post tonight instead. Oops.

Alright, folks time for the big announcement!

I have launched a new blog! It's called The Phosphene and, rather than being a blog that I write exclusively, it's a team effort. I've assembled a team of folks to write about film, music, television, books, art, and other facets of pop culture. It should be fun...right?

The reasoning behind this is that I feel like I've been doing a lot of film and record reviews here on this blog, and while it stretches my writing muscles to do so, I want to return this blog to its original purpose, i.e. a blog about my writing, not a blog for my writing. So I'll go back to posting about my struggles with writer's block and doing stuff like the excerpts and maybe even the free-write Fridays. I will, however, continue my Disney Movie Reviews here, they'll just get simultaneously posted on the new blog.

So go check it out! Tell your friends! You can even follow the new blog on Twitter or even Like us on Facebook.

That's all for now!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 25

Today did not go as planned. Big announcement tomorrow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 23

And stay tuned for a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT in the next few days.

No, I am not going to be a father again.

Review: Dumbo

Dumbo, the fourth film on my Disney Animated Film Adventure, which at one time vied with Robin Hood and Aladdin as my favorite of the Disney animated films, is a dramatically different kind of film than its three predecessors. Where Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia are visually complex, Dumbo is simple. Simple, too, is the storyline. Like Fantasia, this film is not based on a fairy tale as the first two films were, but of course Fantasia had rich source material from which to work, namely the pieces of music which were used. Dumbo is based on a rather simplistic prototype for a new toy called a "Roll-A-Book." The toy was developed using eight drawings and a few short lines of text describing what was happening in the book, when Disney writers took it and fleshed the story out. It's simple, basic and charming, without the heavily terrifying elements we've seen in the previous films.

The film starts with a lightning bolt and thunder and a voice crying "Through the snow, and sleet, and hail / Through the blizzard, through the gale / Through the wind and through the rain / Over mountain, over plain / Through the blinding lightning flash / And the mighty thunder crash / Ever faithful, ever true / Nothing stops him, he'll get through!" And then we find out he's talking about a Stork. Many storks, in fact, deliver a bunch of baby animals to a circus in Florida in what is one of the most cutest ever animated segments ever ever. Really.

The action starts when an elephant does not get a baby, and she's sad. She doesn't say she's sad, you just see it. In fact, there's very little dialog through the first part of this film. Finally, while the circus is packed onto the train, a stork shows up with a baby elephant. This baby elephant is our hero, though we don't know that until he gets dropped into his mother's trunk and his ears flap out in an explosive sneeze. Yup, those ears.

The poor guy is ridiculed something fierce for these big floppy ears, so much so that his protective mother (who loves him completely and unconditionally, something I totally understand) kind of freaks out on some boys and gets locked up, leaving Dumbo an outcast.

Enter Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo's only friend in the world. He tries to build up Dumbo's self-confidence by tricking the ringmaster into making Dumbo the climax of the "Pyramid of Pachyderms" circus attraction. But, as with all things, Dumbo's ears get in the way, creating havoc. The other circus elephants, already shunning Dumbo for his big ears and his crazy mother, completely disavow any knowledge of Dumbo, and he gets turned into a clown and has to jump off a burning tower into a vat of cream pie filling. Which, actually, is something I would totally enjoy, minus the burning part.

Timothy, always the good friend, tries to cheer Dumbo up by taking him to see his mother. This is one of the most beautiful moments in the film, with Mrs. Jumbo cradling Dumbo in her trunk through the bars of the elephant prison trailer (which, I guess, is a thing?) while the film's most beautiful song "Baby Mine" plays. Side note: my wife sings this song to my daughter every day, and it never fails to bring a smile to either of their faces.

After this, I guess the Fantasia animators wanted to get a little more bizzaro out of their systems, or maybe somebody was trying to point out how drinking is a bad thing, because Dumbo and Timothy accidentally drink some champagne, get totally wasted, and Dumbo blows a bubble out of his trunk. The bubble turns into a shared hallucination between the two; it turns into a pink elephant and we get a Technicolor Elephant Nightmare.

They let it into Disney Land at night to eat stragglers.

Actually, let me say at this point that although many of my friends would get creeped out by this part of the film, when I was a child this was my favorite part. I would often rewind and watch this part again and again while my friends waited nervously around the corner, behind the couch, or in the kitchen. Yeah, I was a little...different. But the colors! The song! The bizarre creatures created out of elephants! Elephant cars and trains! A Camel-Elephant hybrid which I call a Camelphant! What imaginations these animators had! What exquisite drugs they must have been taking!

So when Dumbo and Timothy wake up all hungover, they're in a tree. And a murder of crows sees them and wonders how they got up there while they smoke cigars, talk jive and get interpreted as a racial stereotype. Since you brought up the stereotype thing, let me just say this: these crows are incredibly smart. They're tough, sure, and they look rag-tag based on their clothes, but, um...they're crows. How did they even get clothes? I guess this is a universe of anthropomorphic animals but they still live in zoos and are attractions at circuses...but still. And when I say they're smart, I mean it. Listen to their song, which is full of clever wordplay and is meant not to mock Dumbo as EVERY OTHER CHARACTER BESIDES TIMOTHY AND MRS. JUMBO HAVE DONE but they do it to mock Timothy's insistence that Dumbo flew. But they help, and Dumbo gets off the ground. He returns to the circus and jumps off his burning tower. On the way down, he loses the feather. Timothy, who was riding in his hat, explains that the feather wasn't really magic, and that Dumbo can fly without it. Which, of course, he does, exacting revenge on the clowns, the ringmaster, and the elephants who shunned him. And then, I guess, he does the classic meteoric rise to fame thing, in which he gets super famous and makes a lot of money and yet somehow ends up right where he started? Well, not entirely. He uses his celebrity to get his mother released and to procure a fancy modern private car for the two of them (plus Timothy I would guess) on the train. But still...he's still in the circus? I guess if that's where the money is...

Because of the financial failures of the previous two films, Disney wanted a simple story that was easy to animate, and that's exactly what they got. At just over one hour, it's one of the shortest of the Disney animated features. In fact, RKO Pictures, the distributor of Disney's films, refused to release Dumbo at first, stating that it was too short and would either have to be lengthened, billed as a short subject or listed as B-movie (which, at the time, just meant the second/lesser known film of a double feature). But Disney held fast, and RKO finally agreed to distribute the film as a feature. Despite the war in Europe and the attack on Pearl Harbor just two months after this film's release, it still turned a profit and received critical success. Many saw it as a return to the roots of Disney with a simple, character driven animated story. Compared to Pinocchio and Fantasia, which many critics said were too ambitious or complex for the medium, Dumbo was easy to watch and joyful with great music. With this film, many of the Disney themes were established. While both Snow White and Pinocchio had original songs composed for the films, the Dumbo soundtrack contained seven original songs (Snow White had three and while Pinocchio had six, remember that this film is a full twenty minutes shorter). This is also the first Disney feature to have anthropomorphic animals as the main characters, something which became almost requisite thereafter.

One of the things I missed in my youth, and which I took special notice of upon this watching, is that the crows are incredibly smart and helpful. I already mentioned the word play, but when they help Dumbo fly, they give him a "magic feather." When I was a kid, I always thought that the feather really did have some magic in it, and that Dumbo needed it to fly at first but that the magic somehow passed into him so he didn't need it anymore after he dropped it. Of course now I know that's bogus; the crows used the feather as a mind-trick. And Timothy is in on it. When I realized that in my young-adulthood (when I was watching old Disney movies "ironically" except not ironically, more in an attempt to recapture my simpler youth because I was all angsty over some girl or something else that teenagers needlessly worry about OH GOD WHY DIDN'T SHE WANT TO GO TO THE DANCE WITH ME AND WHY CAN'T I BE POPULAR LIKE THE POPULAR KIDS WHY whoa...that was weird) it changed my whole perception of the crows. At first I was like, "Oh, so Dumbo didn't even need to meet the crows" and then later I realized, "Wait, yes he did." See, Timothy was a good friend, and a big dreamer, but he needed to know how to help Dumbo out. The crows saw an opportunity, and when they realized that Dumbo was too downtrodden to believe in himself, they gave Timothy the gift of the "magic" feather. It's just a feather, but to tell Dumbo it's magic, it gave him hope that it would make him fly. So, basically, the crows are doctors and they just prescribe Dumbo a placebo. And it works! It's all mind over matter. The whole film, for being only an hour long and such a simple story, is chock full of great story. And sure, stories with a moral are often times annoying. Moral stories can be really heavy-handed and over the top and so eye-rolling, head banging, groaningly sigh-inducing at times, but this one's better because the story is so simple. Be yourself, and believe in yourself, and you will accomplish something. It may not be what you set out to do, but take stock of your assets, your liabilities, and play to your strengths. And above all, listen to those who are trying to help, and ignore those who don't help. Chances are, you'll be able to dive bomb them and spit peanuts out of your trunk when you prevail, those bastards.

Once again, Wikipedia helped out. Revisions were most recently made by me so that what I tell you here matches what you read there.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 22

So today, I noticed that the facial hair has definitely progressed from scraggly to legit.

Hey, just so everyone can look forward to it, when all is done with FHF, the last post will be a deconstruction of the beard, from full to goatee to mustache to smoov. And yes, I am aware that I just misspelled smooth, but seriously guys, it's going to be so smooth it will be smoov.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 21

Jules is still awake. Looks like a long night ahead.

Seven. More. Days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 20

Today was such a lovely day, we went for a walk in the park and had our windows open. All of my Minnesota friends were not so lucky, I hear. Sorry, guys...we'll try and send some of this weather up your way.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Facial hair February: Day 19

Today was Saturday. No reason for telling you that, just figured you'd want to read something rather than just look at a picture.

Also, thanks for the overwhelming response to my question on Thursday. Really guys. Thanks. So, so much.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 18

I'm ready to call it quits on this whole project. But no! Onward and upward!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Open Letter to All Bands and Concert-Goers

Okay, guys. We love you because you provide music to us. Sure, we have to pay to see you in concert, and we have to pay to have your music with us at all times (theoretically...) but we have to have a talk.

Look, I know it's not up to you how much concert tickets cost. I know that's mostly up to the companies like Ticketmaster who provide that service for concert promoters and venues. And I know it's not your fault that the biggest promoter, Live Nation bought Ticketmaster, creating a terrible monopoly wherein the price of concert tickets can rise and rise without check. But, you know, you could have said something. Or you could leave Live Nation and find smaller promoters, ones who can send you to venues who don't use Ticketmaster. Maybe I'm oversimplifying things. But anyway, all that aside, that's actually not what I'm here to talk about. That topic has been done many times by better-informed writers than myself. I'm here to talk about what actually happens at your concerts.

Granted, I haven't been to a good live concert in years (other than a few Rum Drum Ramblers and Pokey LaFarge shows, but I'm talking about national touring acts where I don't know somebody in the band) but I do listen to a lot of live concerts via NPR Music, so I feel I can speak with a small measure of authority on this topic. So, now that I have your very limited and sporadic attention, I'm going to ask you one thing: Please stop building your encore into your show.

Look, the whole idea of an encore has been completely skewed today. It used to be that an encore was something audiences asked for if and only if they felt the main performance was exceptional. In summary, Encores used to be an exception, not a rule.

In olden days, an audience would clap at the end of a performance as the curtain went down/maestro stepped off stage. As the clapping continued and people shouted "Bravo!" the curtain would be lifted or the maestro would return to the stage for more bows. If the applause continued even more, and people were standing, this would be repeated until people either stopped clapping or shouted "Encore!" If that happened, the performers would perform a final piece, usually agreed upon beforehand, or maybe they'd just play the last section of their last piece again. But, if the audience didn't think the original performance was good enough, none or only a few of these things would happen.

I admit, audiences have a hand in the modern concept of the encore. They've come to expect an encore, so you guys hold something back. Could be a fan favorite that everyone expected you to play but you didn't, and hey presto! You come back out on stage and gracefully bestow upon the audience this final gift. "Thought we forgot about this one, eh?" But look...if you plan it, it's not really an encore, is it?

Feel it, guys. Read the audience during the show. If you feel like they're really into it, and want more when you step off stage because you've done a great job (and NOT because they expect it), walk back out there. And audience members: don't expect an encore just because you're at a concert. Only expect it if the band has earned it, and let them know.

We cool? Cool. Thanks.

[walks off blog]
[lights still down]
[walks back onto blog]

Thanks, you guys are awesome!

Hey, so I was wondering...after February, I want to try and blog every day still. I know my February every-day blogs aren't exactly chock full of writing (but I'm getting the rest of this stuff in here for you, so that's something) so what I was thinking was maybe, in March, doing a short story a day? What do you think? It might be daunting, but if I get enough encouragement, I'll totally do it. Let me know in the comments. Oh, and remember, if your comment doesn't show up right away, it's because I have to okay every comment. I've gotten some duplicate comments lately which I think might have something to do with the lag in you posting a comment and me publishing it. I'm not always by my computer (though it may seem like I am since I'm soooo prolific) but I'll get to it!

[walks off blog]
[lights up]
[terrible house music up]
[roadies start dismantling blog equipment, accidentally dropping the header on someone's toe]

Facial Hair February: Day 17

It's getting kind of itchy.

Review: Fantasia

If there is one Disney Animated Film that has seen more and different versions than any other, it would be Fantasia. Originally released in 1940 as a Roadshow Theatrical Release, which is kind of like a modern limited release except you had to reserve your seats way ahead of time. The film grew out of one of its more popular segments "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which was to be a stand-alone short for the "Silly Symphonies" series. Oddly enough, because Mickey Mouse had been losing popularity to the likes of Donald Duck and Goofy, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was made as an attempt to rejuvenate Mickey. And I have to ask, does this strike anybody else as odd? Mickey Mouse was in trouble of vanishing into obscurity? The Mickey Mouse? I guess it worked, because he's one of the most recognizable characters of all time...

After adapting two fairy tales, Disney decided to do something entirely different with Fantasia. Instead of a single narrative, we're treated to a concert-on-film with visuals provided by Disney animators and their interpretations of the music. In that sense, it's hard to really review this film the way you would any other, so instead, I'm going to talk about the 1969 theatrical release.

Seriously, is anybody at all surprised at how popular this film was thirty years after its release? It was released in theaters in 1940, 1942, 1946, 1956, 1969, 1982 and 1985 and has since seen multiple home video releases. This film didn't turn a profit until 1969 when it turned a HUGE profit. I think the Disney marketing machine knew what it was doing then. Look at the poster:

"Let's go check out this 13th Floor Elevators Show! Oh, wait...Disney? Oh well, looks trippy enough. Get the bong."

But back to the actual film: this was one gutsy move on Walt Disney's part. He defined an art form with Snow White and then had pretty good critical (if not financial) success with Pinocchio so why, then, did he go all Radiohead's Kid A on his third film? Didn't he know he needed an OK Computer to bridge the gap? And as I put the Radiohead metaphor to bed, I want to say that he actually did have that middle piece, he just released it after Fantasia. It's called Dumbo and I'm reviewing it next.

So Disney makes the first experimental art-house concert animated film, broken up into eight segments:

1) Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Here we get live-action silhouettes of the orchestra against colored background (kind of cutting edge for 1940) which melds into colorful visual impressions. The idea was that since the music didn't come with a ready-made narrative (like many of the others), the animators would just kind of doodle. I'll bet in 1969 this was one of the more popular segments. In 1940, I'll bet it was kind of...odd.

2) Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite

Of course today, we know this as Christmas music. But back then, it was apparently not very popular and was associated with dancing plants/fungi.

3) Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice

This is the most popular and well-known segment of this film, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that every piece of promotional art ever made for this film besides the 1969 poster includes a picture of Mickey Mouse wearing the Sorcerer's Hat. This was the image Disney wanted associated with this film and it is the enduring image. And it's one of the best parts of the film as well, which I think can be attributed to the familiarity we have with Mickey as viewers. We're automatically invested in whatever happens to him, and what happens is that he meddles in things he shouldn't and gets in over his head. I'll bet you've got the tune in your head, right now. Don't you? You're humming it and imagining Mickey putting the broom to work and you're still humming it.

4) Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

It's funny to watch this one, because ideas of evolution and what caused the extinction of the Dinosaurs has changed since 1940, not to mention our understanding of Dinosaurs in general. Here we get the early stages of life on earth with single-celled organisms developing into more complex forms of life until we get the pinnacle of evolution, the T-Rex.

You Won't Fool The Children of the Revolution

Only the Dinosaurs look ridiculous in comparison to the way we depict them now; they move so goofy, and the Tyrannosaurus looks suspiciously like an overgrown malformed crocodile. And then instead of a meteor striking Earth, apparently just a bunch of volcanoes erupted simultaneously and killed off the Dinosaurs. Also...what does this have to do with The Rite of Spring, which was about Pagan rituals? Ah, whatever...

5) Meet the Soundtrack

We get a line on the screen which changes whenever we hear a new sound. They go through the entire orchestra but never once mention a Contrabass Sarrusophone. Lame.

6) Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

This was probably also a favorite of audiences who were tripping, because it has Unicorns and Centaurs and more than one Pegasus (what is the plural of Pegasus?) and also has Bacchus throwing a huge party which gets interrupted by a lightning bolt trigger-happy Zeus. So, you know...exactly what the Dinosaur segment should have been about. Only then there wouldn't have been any Dinosaurs, so...

This portion of the film is something modern audiences have NEVER seen in its original form. Why, do you ask? Because in the original there was one black female Centaur who worked as a servant for the white, blonde female Centaurs, doing menial tasks for them while they all got ready to frolic with the hot male centaurs. This character has not appeared in the film since before 1969, when she was cut out by an editor who cited it as an "appalling...racial stereotype." I can see why they would do that.

7) Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours

This is the one where Ostriches, Hippos, Elephants and Alligators all dance together with the end result of toppling the palace in which they are dancing. Years later, Disney would get a little more mileage out of this "Hippos are fat" joke by using it again in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

8) Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and Schubert's Ave Maria

The demon Chernabog spends the night summoning evil spirits and restless souls to do his bidding, which apparently is just a whole lot of flying around a mountain top. And, before he can start his real evil plan, the Church bells ring and he calls off plans while he settles in for the day. We can only assume he does this every night and, until he learns how to get better organized, won't ever enact any actual evil. Or maybe he's counting on the church bells not ringing some morning. But imagine you're one of the tripped-out 1969 viewers. You've seen cool colors, dancing mushrooms, brooms put into slavery, Dinosaurs, half naked centaurs and hilariously mismatched cartoon animals ballet dancing, and now, probably just as you start coming down from your high "HOLY CRAP THE DEMON CHERNABOG!"

"Guys...tell me I'm not the only one seeing this..."

Scary, Disney. Real terrifying.

This film works because it's so different. It was a risk but it was worth it. Only, not at the time. It took years for people to appreciate this film the way Disney wanted it to be appreciated (and I'm not talking about hippies, but professional film critics and film historians, you know, people who used to be hippies). The original vision was for this film to be re-released every year, each time with some of the original segments but also with new ones. If it had immediately achieved the level of success it did thirty years later, Disney's vision might have come to fruition. But instead, we are left with this single dazzling wall of sight and sound.

There are a few problems, of course. The first section feels like it's running slow. To borrow a phrase I heard on the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, I kept waiting for the word "Buffering" to appear on the screen (to all of my older readers, that's an online video joke). And the arrangements were done by Leopold Stokowski, the conductor, and they are somewhat paired down from the original orchestrations of the pieces. Which probably doesn't matter to most people, but when you grew up in the house I grew up in, and played in an orchestra yourself, and in that orchestra while growing up in that house played some of the pieces of music found in Fantasia you actually do notice these things. I understand why it was done: first off, it's easier to record a smaller group than a larger one, especially at the time. But also, this had never been done before, and it was a massive financial gamble. Disney was probably looking for cost-cutting measures wherever he could find them. "Do we need thirty violinists? Can we get by with fifteen? Good." That sort of thing.

What's strange about this film, and about Pinocchio is that although neither was a great success at first, both of these films have weathered well through time and have become classics not only of animated film, but of film in general. Fantasia especially added another dimension to a medium still yet in its infancy. Without Fantasia we probably wouldn't have any of the Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes "Kill the Wabbit'" sung to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries style cartoons. And that, my friends, would be a terrible, horrible loss.

Also, the real T-Rex wanted to say something.

"Get it on/Bang a Gong/Get it On!"

Disclaimer about the Wikipedia article on Fantasia. Joke about Wikipedia's accuracy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 16

I expect at least one "Where's Waldo" joke.

Has anyone heard the new Devotchka album? You can listen to it right now for free at!

Also, new Decemberists album is already out, new Peter Bjorn & John is coming out next month, new Iron & Wine is out, new Fleet Foxes, new Adele...2011 is looking like it might be quite a nice year for music!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 15

We got our taxes done today. Hooray!

Later this week: Reviews of Fantasia and Dumbo, a rant about encores at concerts, and of course, more scraggly facial hair.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Facial Hair February: Valentine's Day


Happy Valentine's Day.

Review: Pinocchio, or Let's Ignore Unpleasantries

After the success of Snow White, Disney set to adapt another fairy tale as an animated feature. This time, instead of choosing a traditional Grimm fairy tale, he chose The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian children's author Carlo Collodi. What we get is a fairly compressed and, actually, slightly less terrifying version of the original story. Just's less terrifying than the original. Let me give you just a small taste:

In the original version, Pinocchio has Geppetto arrested for child abuse, kills the talking cricket which lived in Geppetto's house, accidentally burns his feet off, narrowly escapes becoming firewood for a puppeteer, bites a cat's hand off, and gets strung up and hung from a branch.

He. bites. off. a. cat's. hand.

He's Right; they totally are.

Also, he kills the talking cricket.

That would have made for a very different, much darker film. Like, so dark, David Fincher would be all like, "Whoa, that's twisted and dark."

So, my original review about how terribly dark this film is can now be thrown out the window.

Basically, the main difference between the source material and the film is Pinocchio himself. Originally, he is kind of a half-crazed wooden Dennis the Menace, but in the Disney film he is given a kind of innocent naivety. Also, he doesn't bite off anybody's hand or kill Jiminy Cricket.

But we can't ignore the darkness in this film; when he is led astray by Honest John and Gideon, the puppeteer who takes him on basically enslaves him. It's only with the help of Jiminy and the Blue Fairy that he's able to escape. And then we get Pleasure Island.

Wow, Pleasure Island. Let me tell you something about that part of the film. First off, the Coachman tells Honest John and Gideon to convince boys to go to Pleasure Island, and they shudder. Think of that; Honest John and Gideon, who are con men willing to sell Pinocchio into slavery, shudder at the thought of this place called Pleasure Island. The conversation goes like this:

The Coachman: I'm collecting stupid little boys.

Honest John: Stupid little boys?

The Coachman: You know, the disobedient ones who play hooky from school.

Honest John: Ohh!

The Coachman: And you see...
[Whispers in Honest John's ear; Gideon puts his ear to Honest John's other ear so he can listen as well]

The Coachman: And I takes 'em to Pleasure Island.

Honest John: [nods in agreement] Ah, Pleasure Island.
[suddenly shocked]

Honest John: Pleasure Island? But the law! Suppose they...

The Coachman: No, no. There is no risk. They never come back... as BOYS!
[leans in close to camera and smiles wickedly]

I'm sorry, but...a creepy old man taking a bunch of boys to "Pleasure Island" and they "never come boys!" is really really terrifying. I was watching it and, keeping a fresh perspective in mind, I thought, "Ew, this guy is a real creeper." It feels like Pleasure Island is one whole metaphor for something else entirely.

So after all the boys get turned into donkeys (except for Pinocchio, who escapes with only ears and a tail), he and Jiminy wander back to Geppetto's house. Now, it seems like it's only been a day, at most, since Pinocchio went missing, but the house is shuttered and abandoned and looks like it's been so for some time. I guess we're dealing with compression of the narrative, but it really does seem like it has been less than a day or so since the film even started. But Geppetto is all ready out looking for Pinocchio, and he took his cat and the fish that is madly in love with the cat, and they've all been swallowed by a giant whale named Monstro. Pinocchio and Jiminy head out to sea, get swallowed by Monstro, and rescue Geppetto. Pinocchio sort of dies in the process, but the Blue Fairy shows up to turn him for real into a real boy. And they all live happily ever after.

At the core, this is a quest story; it's basically about Pinocchio earning his conscience (or his soul, I guess). He faces hardships and obstacles and temptations and, through the ultimate sacrifice, comes out ahead. The only problem with this sacrifice I see comes from the fact that Pinocchio didn't really change that much. He's not mischievous, as Pinocchio is in the original story, he's just easily manipulated. Manipulated into slavery, manipulated into a trip to Pleasure Island. So when he goes out in search of Geppetto he's not doing it due to any change of heart. We never get the sense that he wouldn't do anything for Geppetto, so we're not surprised by his bravery. We're only surprised by his sacrifice because this is a children's movie and he is the titular character (though, in the last Disney film we saw, the titular character appeared dead for a while as well, which is another theme we'll see in many of these features). We know that Geppetto is searching for Pinocchio because Geppetto loves him, and we know Pinocchio feels the same way.

In the original, Pinocchio has to learn humility, sympathy, empathy, responsibility, friendship, and so on and so forth before becoming a real boy. The only lesson Disney's Pinocchio learns is that he shouldn't lie, otherwise his nose could poke somebody's eye out. The problem is that though he does prove he's unselfish, brave and truthful by the end of the movie, we never see him being selfish or cowardly. There's nothing at stake as far as his character goes.

I'm not saying it doesn't have its strong points. Like Snow White, Pinocchio is visually stunning and parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. For instance, when Honest John and Gideon are tricking Pinocchio into the trip to Pleasure Island, Honest John gives him a thorough "examination" while whipping him around, with Gideon taking notes in the background. Gideon's notes are no more than scribbles, but Honest John consults them and convinces a very dizzy and disheveled Pinocchio that he has an allergy. It's a funny bit of writing with good visuals. And Monstro, the whale, is one of the more terrifying monsters of any animated film, ever. But the story is still lacking in good character development. It just falls flat when I apply my film-class-addled powers of examination.

And I can't leave off without saying how truly scary it is that though our main characters get to live happily ever after, all those boys on Pleasure Island got turned into donkeys and never got to go home. In fact, in the original story, Pinocchio ends up working on a farm and has to tend to a dying Donkey, who turns out to be his best friend from his days on Pleasure Island. Yikes. If they had kept that part in the film, guaranteed that it would have been even less of a financial success than it was. Though, to be fair, the reason this film's original box-office earnings did not match up to Snow White is because of the outbreak of WWII, which limited its international release by quite a few years. Don't worry, though; Disney has more than made up for this lack of income over the multiple home video releases in the last thirty years.

Well, that's it for now. Next time, I get to review Fantasia, which is going to be very challenging because I won't get to pad it out with a plot summary. Should be fun!

Once again, I consulted the Wikipedia Page for information on this film, and also about the original novel. Michael Scott says since anybody can edit Wikipedia, you know it's accurate. And I trust that man completely.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Facial hair February: Day 13

Fun fact: today is the day in 2003 I proposed to my wife. I didn't want to do it on Valentine's Day, that's way too cliché.

Since I'm guessing some of you may be reading this on Monday, Happy Valentine's Day.

Facial Hair February: Day 12

Today is the day I keep it totally classy.

Suit, Tie, Beard.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 11

When I got home from work today, Juliette kept running her hands all over my beard. I hope she does it again tomorrow when Kathy or I have a camera handy.

I look tired, but that's only because I am tired.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 10

I'm waiting for that day when it stops being scratchy and starts being just fuzzy.

Not today.

Fun Fact: My wife made that quilt hanging on the wall behind me. Isn't it awesome?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 9

I noticed today that I have a small spot on the left side of my upper lip where no hair is growing. See if you can spot it!

That is not an argyle sweater, if you can believe that

Monday, February 07, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 7... which Elliot shaves the neck beard.

Seriously, folks, this isn't No Shave November, it's Facial Hair February. I think a little clean-up is not only allowed, but in some cases encouraged.

This month long series of facial hair photos gives my readers the added benefit of being able to see my extensive variation on the "Argyle Sweater over Button Down Shirt" style which has, in some social circles, come to define me.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Facial Hair February: Days 4-6

Sorry all, I was in Chicago this weekend visiting some friends who hadn't met Juliette. We went to the Shedd Aquarium and had dinner at Pizano's and Jules had a great time. For the record, so did we.

Also, I'm working on my next three Disney reviews already, just have to finish them and post them.

And for anyone who is wondering why I am doing Facial Hair February, it's because aside from the first twelve and a half years of my life, the longest I've ever gone without shaving is twenty days. I just want to see what I look like with facial hair.

2/4/11 Moments until departure for Chicago

2/5/11 In front of the spiral staircase in my friend's loft condo. I love that condo.

2/6/11, finally home from Chicago

Friday, February 04, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 3

Sorry so late. Writing.

Jules didn't want to be put down, and also she says she hasn't shaved since August 5th

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Facial Hair February: Day 2

Okay, I'm almost done bothering you for the day. Just wanted to give you today's facial hair image.

Look for more tomorrow...

Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In 1937, Walt Disney produced the world's first feature-length cel-animated motion picture in color, and the first animated feature in America. You've probably seen it and are currently having trouble remember the names of a few of the eight titular characters. Of course, I'm talking about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This film was adapted from a fairy tale of the same name, by the Brothers Grimm. In it, we see the story of a beautiful young girl who is hated by her evil stepmother but who, in the end, rides with Prince Charming to live happily ever after. If this sounds super familiar, remember that it set the tone for some of Disney's most successful animated films with basically the same plot. But I digress.

The story is a simple one, which was perfect for a medium which was in its infancy. Many people, including Walt Disney's wife Lillian, were not convinced the general public would pay to see a full length animated film. Had the naysayers been right, this film would have gone down in the history books as "Disney's Folly" and we would all be deprived of a great many cinematic classics.

Sure, I've seen this movie several hundred times probably, but I tried to watch it with a critical eye this time around. And what struck me is just how scary it can be in places. Snow White's stepmother (the Queen) is a dangerous character, when you get right down to it. She orders one of her servants to kill Snow White. Creepier still is that she asks the servant to bring Snow White's heart back in a box as proof. When he brings back the box with what is believed by the queen to be Snow White's heart, she keeps it as some kind of trophy. Also, she has a room in the dungeons where she keeps evil magic potions and spell books. Here's the thing: aside from a propensity to talk to animals and clean other peoples' cottages after barging in uninvited, Snow White is pretty well-adjusted so you have to imagine that either her father or biological mother was as well. And the stepmother/Queen must not have been around too long, because she doesn't seem to have tainted Snow White much. So, for the sake of argument, let's say it was her father who was well-adjusted. Why would he marry such a freak? Unless she put a spell on him, I guess. But what if it was her mother who was well-adjusted? We're never told what happened to the mother, so given the evidence of a mentally unbalanced, jealous, actually bona fide evil stepmother, I don't think it's too much of a leap to guess that Snow White's bio-mother's heart is probably in a box somewhere in the Queen's private office. Just let that sink in.

But you also never see Snow White's father, so my new theory is this: both parents were well adjusted, and loved her dearly. Then, Witchy Woman comes along with a load of evil paraphernalia including a magic mirror which is the heaviest-handed symbol of vanity ever put to film and which probably tells her that the current queen is way better looking and probably also a lot nicer and, seeing the castle, she says, "I'll bet there's some dungeon room I could keep all this stuff in. Time for a power grab!" At which point she hires some down-trodden peasant unhappy with the political climate to whack Snow White's totally hot mother while she herself concocts Love Potion Number Nine to slip into the grieving King's wine at the funeral. Of course,she didn't count on little Snow White, so she's got to rethink the plans a bit. After the wedding, she puts away her love potion and promises the aforementioned peasant a cushy cabinet position if he also murders the king. Of course, he gladly does this and is summarily caught and beheaded without a trial to avoid any possible whisper of foul play against the royal family. So now she's queen, and she's got this magic mirror that tells her she's totally the hottest, but she's got this beautiful little stepdaughter who might some day become more beautiful. So, I guess because at that point she figured another murder might seem a bit suspicious, she makes Snow White a scullery maid in the hopes, I guess, that the life of a peasant girl might ravage her looks? Because now that she's in power, all she wants is to remain the hottest.

Of course it backfires and Snow White becomes more beautiful the very day she meets Prince Charming, at which point we get the thing with the heart in a box. Only, this guy who can't bring himself to kill Snow White put a pig's heart in the box. For some reason, the queen waits a whole day to ask the mirror if she's now back on the top of the heap. Of course the mirror says, "Nope, still your stepdaughter, duh, your minion brought you a pig's heart," and she's so angry she concocts a plan to kill Snow White once and for all. Nary a mention what happens to said minion, but I'll bet it wasn't pleasant.

At this point, yes, I will admit that I am not talking about ANY of the titular characters. That's because Snow White herself is one dimensional; she is a beautiful but naive girl who wants to marry Prince Charming (whom she has only met once, briefly while singing to some birds) while the Dwarfs are seven guys who live in one house together, and each of them has a name to describe their defining characteristic except for Doc, the bumbling leader. So, basically, Snow White wanders into a frat house and then plays den mother until the queen shows up with a poisoned apple. I'll get to that bit now.

So, this poisoned apple that the queen painstakingly makes is kind of a mistake. Here's the thing, you wouldn't buy a "build your own helicopter" kit and put it together without first making sure that what you bought was a working helicopter and not just a model, right? That's kind of what the queen does with the apple; she makes the apple thinking, "This is going to totally kill Snow White!" When she's done, she then says, "Let me just make sure that this will actually do what it's supposed to..." and reads the second page of the instructions. That's the page which says, "Oh, hey, instead of killing the person, it'll just look like the person is dead and said person will stay that way until experiencing love's first kiss." So she takes a real risk here; I guess she thought that a Scullery Maid would have already had love's first kiss and that therefore any kiss she got would be love's second kiss and not a problem? Or maybe, she thought, "Who's going to fall in love with somebody who's dead?" That actually is a pretty solid argument, now that I think of it. Yeah, that was probably what she was thinking. Still, I would have read all of the instructions and then tried to find another potion, maybe one labeled "Deadly Poison Which Will Cause Permanent Death." That probably wouldn't be an apple. That would probably be broccoli.

It tries to warn you with its terrible taste

So the queen gets the apple to Snow White while the dwarfs all go off to work in the mines. She's not posing as the queen, though, because Snow White would recognize her. No, instead she poses as an ugly old crumpled up woman with warts because, you know, everybody trusts people who look exactly like every witch ever depicted throughout history. The animals which Snow White can talk to try to stop the deal from going down, but she ignores them and thinks they're being rude. Never mind that these same animals have established a reputation of helping Snow White clean the dwarfs' house and, oh, that's right, led her to safety when she was first abandoned in the woods. So, rebuffed, the animals head to the mine and have to forcibly drag the dwarfs back to their cabin because, again, the animals are mistaken as just being crazy. See, people, you should always trust animals and do their bidding. Must take a break and get Amethyst her dinner. Also some catnip.

Back. So the dwarfs get back and of course Snow White appears to be dead, and the queen is all, "Mua HAHAHA!" all over the place, and she tries to crush the dwarfs under a boulder but instead falls to her death. Which is too bad, because then she never got to go back to her mirror and ask it who was the best looking and hear it say "Well, since technically your apple didn't kill her, it's Snow White..." Totally missed out on a really good straight-to-home-video sequel there, Disney. Anyway, the dwarfs are super sad, because they think Snow White is dead. But instead of burying her, they put her in a glass coffin. Months pass, and finally Prince Charming comes around and opens the glass coffin and kisses her and, hey presto! she wakes up. They ride to the castle and they live happily ever after. Sweet deal! Though, of course, there's the matter of all the heart boxes, black magic potions, spell books,and creepy talking mirror which have to be cleaned up. But that's a job for the scullery maid! Oh, wait...oh man...

All kidding aside, though, this is a triumph of animated film. Most of the panning camera shots (that's the lingo, I know the camera's not moving but the drawings are changing, but still, animated films use the same lingo as live-action films) were done using layered drawings, meaning that the relative positions of objects in the foreground move differently than from things in the background, which is pretty well advanced. There are animated films made recently without such attention to detail. And the backgrounds themselves are gorgeous watercolor paintings (a technique only used by Disney in Snow White, Dumbo and 2002's Lilo & Stitch, amazingly). And the film was a great success. The AFI has honored Snow White as one of its top 100 films (#49 on the 1998 list, #34 on the 2007 list) as well as ranking it first of all animated films. Its simple story and beautiful animation are its two strongest points, and in an animated film, what more do you need?


Aside from watching the film, before reviewing I also consulted the film's Wikipedia article. And we all know that they are never wrong.

Official List of Disney Films

From which we will be watching.

We decided to go with feature length animated (or mostly animated) films which saw theatrical release, which means no direct-to-home-video sequels or anything of the sort. Instead of sticking with the list of 50 Disney Animated Classics (which, for some reason, includes a film still currently in theaters, Tangled which seems like that's not the real definition of a "classic") we've opted to also include some of the other theatrical releases including all of the Pixar films (spoiler alert: they're all awesome).

I'm using the list found here, so if you can think of any that are missing go ahead and let me know, but this seems pretty comprehensive. Some of the ones I was considering including in the list are actually impossible to find on either Amazon or Netflix (such as The Reluctant Dragon), so they're not included.

Here's the list:

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
2. Pinocchio
3. Fantasia
4. Dumbo
5. Bambi
6. Saludos Amigos
7. The Three Caballeros
8. Make Mine Music
9. Fun and Fancy Free
10. Melody Time
11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
12. Cinderella
13. Alice in Wonderland
14. Peter Pan
15. Lady and the Tramp
16. Sleeping Beauty
17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
18. The Sword in the Stone
19. The Jungle Book
20. The Aristocats
21. Robin Hood
22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
23. The Rescuers
24. The Fox and the Hound
25. The Black Cauldron
26. The Great Mouse Detective
27. Oliver and Company
28. The Little Mermaid
29. The Rescuers Down Under
30. Beauty and the Beast
31. Aladdin
32. The Lion King
33. A Goofy Movie
34. Pocahontas
35. Toy Story
36. James and the Giant Peach
37. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
38. Hercules
39. Mulan
40. A Bug's Life
41. Tarzan
42. Toy Story 2
43. Fantasia 2000
44. The Tigger Movie
45. An Extremely Goofy Movie
46. Dinosaur
47. The Emperor's New Groove
48. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
49. Spirited Away
50. Monster's Inc
51. Lilo & Stitch
52. Treasure Planet
53. Piglet's Big Movie
54. Finding Nemo
55. Brother Bear
56. Home on the Range
57. The Incredibles
58. Howl's Moving Castle
59. Pooh's Heffalump Movie
60 Chicken Little
61. The Wild
62. Cars
63. Meet the Robinsons
64. Ratatouille
65. Wall*E
66. Bolt
67. Up
68. The Princess and the Frog
69. Toy Story 3
70. Tangled

I'm sure by the time we get up to Tangled, not only will it be on DVD, but I'm sure I'll have to review Cars 2. Sweet deal. Look forward to it. Look!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

It Starts...

Per request, I am giving you a baseline picture of what I look like clean-shaven.

This is how I dress everyday.

Okay, okay, bad example for two reasons: 1) It's not close enough and 2) it's like ten years old. This photo was posted on facebook by the girl I took to prom senior year of high school. This was taken on prom night. And to answer your question, the jacket was a joke and it was replaced with a standard black jacket after the limo picked up my date.

Okay, the real baseline image is also not incredibly recent, but, would you believe, I had to track back more than a year to find a good picture of me without stubble? It's true. Check it out.

11/21/2009 - My 27th Birthday at Growler's Pub
Still not a close up, but it gives you a better sense. Note my sweet Sunny Day Real Estate Shirt. Note it!

So yesterday, I shaved with my Gillette Mach 3 Turbo instead of my electric razor because the manual one gives me a much better shave. And today, around 5 PM, I looked like this:

Sorry for the strange, psycho-killer qu'est-ce que c'est run run run run run run run away look. And ten points to those who get the reference.

There you have it.

Two Things:

First, Kathy and I are planning on watching all of the Disney Animated Features in chronological order. I will then review each one on this blog. You may ask why I don't do that over at my dad blog, and the answer is that I consider film reviews more writing and less child-rearing.

Second, I am taking part in Facial Hair February. There will be picture evidence of such.

All for now.