Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fully Awesome 'Bolt' Strikes Early on Blu-ray

BOLT (2008)
Starring the voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Mark Walton and Susie Essman
Directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Rated PG for some mild action and peril

Disney got a jump on the traditional DVD-release day by putting the Blu-ray version of "Bolt" on the shelves Sunday. The standard DVD version (like most new releases) will be in stores on Tuesday.

Bolt (John Travolta) is a real-live dog starring in a not-so-real hit television series, where he battles bad guys and takes on the supremely evil "green-eyed man" Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). There's just one problem, Bolt thinks it is real, all the way down to the super-powers his screen persona possesses. When he's suddenly forced to take a cross-country trek in the real world to find his "lost person" Penny (Miley Cyrus), Bolt has to come to grips with who he really is and discover what it takes to be a real hero.

First-time directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard have crafted a highly entertaining and visually beautiful film from the Walt Disney Studios that holds its own against anything put out by their upstate counterpart Pixar--give executive producer John Lasseter a fair share of the credit for that. In turns exciting, funny and heartwarming, "Bolt" combines the best in action-adventure and buddy-film movie making. Call it "The Incredibles Journey."

Travolta and Cyrus do solid voice work in their roles, but the movie belongs to the supporting cast, particularly Essman ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") as Bolt's sassy feline traveling companion Mittens and James Lipton ("Inside the Actors Studio") as the overly-dramatic (could he play it any other way?) television director. Stealing the movie, though, is story artist cum voice talent Mark Walton as the fearless, hyperactive, Bolt-worshipping hamster Rhino. Earnest and just a bit crazed, Rhino is the type of diminutive hero who, when he says, "I eat danger for breakfast," you believe him. Small wonder Rhino got his own short cartoon included in the bonus features. "Super Rhino" is a clever hoot that isn't afraid to poke fun at its source movie material and Disney franchise Cyrus at the same time.

"Lilo & Stitch" Returns to DVD in a 2-Disc Set

Early in this decade, when Disney 2D animation was taking a nose dive (see "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Treasure Planet," et. al.), the mouse house peeled off one last bona fide hit in the Eisner era, a quirky tale of a space alien who crash lands in Hawaii and finds out that "ohana" and Elvis Presley are pretty cool alternatives to blowing stuff up. "Lilo & Stitch" is a subversive charmer with two cuddly (and just a bit dangerous) misfits as the lead characters. It's silly and entertaining with plenty of warm fuzzies thrown in for good measure. The "2-Disc Big Wave Edition" goes on sale tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mickey Mouse Litho is the D23 'Special Gift'

I received my D23 membership card in the mail today with a note welcoming me to "the Official Community for Disney Fans:

The note indicated that a welcome letter, membership certificate and the first issue of "Disney twenty-three" magazine was on the way. Also coming is a top secret "special gift" which is reported to be a 20" x 30" lithograph of Mickey Mouse's official 80th anniversary portrait (I read this on the Internet, so I know it must be true).

Here's a look at the portrait, as scanned from "Disney twenty-three" magazine:

Although I like the portrait, I'm a bit disappointed in receiving it as a free gift. I was hoping for something along the lines of a figurine a'la the Walt Disney Collectors Society. I can always make room to squeeze in a new figurine (despite Jeanne telling me our living room's starting to look like a warehouse), but finding wall space for a poster-size portrait is a bit trickier. I'm not really keen on hanging it in the garage.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

D23: Disney for Grown-Ups

I dropped by my local Barnes & Noble last week, the day Disney launched their new, official fan community, D23. I was searching for the new "Disney twenty-three" magazine and expected to find it amongst the new arrivals at B&N. It was nowhere to be found, so I approached an information clerk, her computer at the ready, and asked about it.

"Do you have 'Disney twenty-three'?"

"'Disney twenty-three'?"

"Yes. It debuted today. Barnes & Noble is supposed to be carrying it."

Type type type. Click click. Type type. Click.

"I can't find it. Are you sure we carry it?"

"Ummm, yeah. Disney's press release said you did."

Click click. Type. Click.

"Is it a kids' magazine?"

"No. It's for fans and collectors."

Type. Click. Type type type. Click.

"We don't have it."

Point 1: This wasn't an auspicious introduction to the world of D23.

Point 2: I freaking hate it when muggles assume everything Disney is for kids. I have a limited edition scale replica of the first Monorail Red in my family room. My two-year old granddaughter is not allowed to touch it. Ever. Even after I'm dead. So there.

I digress.

A few days later, I returned to B&N and was pleased to discover that "Disney twenty-three" had found its way to the sales floor (and no, it wasn't in the kids' section). Sealed in clear plastic, it had a coffee table book look (without the weight) and a great cover photo of a young Walt Disney, wearing a newsboy cap and peering through a motion picture camera. Nice touch. Walt as the young entrepreneur, as far removed from the iconic (and more familiar) Uncle Walt television persona as you could get. Walt is a real person here, not a corporate symbol. Show me more.

Inside, stories range from a look inside the Walt Disney Archives with Dave Smith to photographer Annie Leibovitz's celebrity-strewn reinterpretation of classic Disney moments to a preview of Pixar's May release, "Up." None of the articles are particularly in-depth--no one spins and controls the release of information like Disney--but there are enough behind-the-scenes nuggets to make it worthwhile. It's also gloriously free of advertising. I know, I know. The magazine is one big ad for Disney. But considering the last issue of the now-defunct "Disney Magazine" had ads for Toyota, Kodak and Best Western, among others, it's a welcome relief.

"Disney twenty-three" does go heavy on the superlatives. Leibovitz isn't just a gifted photographer, she's an "American master" with a "singular career." Pixar isn't just a successful film studio, it tells a "stunning story of creative and technical prowess." Tim Burton? I like the guy, but I'm not ready to call him "one of contemporary cinema's greatest visionaries."

OK, maybe I do, but it's different coming from me than when it's coming from Disney to promote a new live-action version of "Alice in Wonderland" that Burton is directing.

A lifetime ago, I did some community theater and was once told by a director to never worry about whether an audience likes you. "They already do" he said. "That's why they're there." I think Disney would be smart to heed that advice. Disney says it's publishing the magazine and developing the D23 website (a phenomenal site, by the way) for fans. If that's the case, then back off on all the gushing. Absolutely, I expect you to be enthusiastic about your past and present output, but I like you already. That's why I'm here

But am I willing to shell out $75 a year for the privilege? Disney has taken a lot of grief in the blogosphere for what many consider a hefty price tag to become an official member of the D23 community. Supporters say it's only $11 more than what you'd pay for four of the quarterly magazines, and hey, you do get a "surprise collectible gift," plus a discount on tickets to September's D23 fan expo in Anaheim. Detractors say why pay for a magazine with old information you can get on the Internet for free and admission to an expo you may not go to anyway. I have to admit, after originally balking at the $75 membership fee, I'm becoming a supporter.

What am I saying? I sprang for the 75 bucks over the weekend.

There's a reason I'll never buy a Kindle from Amazon. As much stuff as you can store on the thing, it'll never replace the tactile joy of flipping pages in a book or magazine. My iPhone and I are joined at the hip, but I still subscribe to my local newspaper, "Entertainment Weekly," "Time," and "Golf Digest." As much information as I can gleen from the Internet, there's still nothing more satisfying than a good read on typeset pages. That's part of the pleasure of "Disney twenty-three" magazine. For all the marketing puffery, it's a well designed, beautifully laid out piece of Disney kitsch I can hold in my hands and revisit anywhere and anytime I like. Add in the extras--hey, I'm a sucker for framable certificates and memberships cards . . . not to mention mystery gifts--and I think it's worth the money.

And no, Ms. Barnes & Noble, it's not a magazine for kids, nor is the website specifically aimed at them either.

I'm happy to be a member of D23. So there.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Preaching to the Choir

To borrow from a great moment with Mr. Lincoln: we all declare for Disney; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

Maybe you're a regular visitor to the theme parks, or grew up on Disney films. Perhaps you collect Donald Duck figurines, or Goofy, or Winnie the Pooh. Maybe you've been sucked into the Disney vortex because your daughter is ga-ga over Zac Efron and the Jonas Brothers. It's OK. You're all welcome here.

Maybe, like me, you enjoy a little bit of Disney everything. I grew up in Northern California in the 1960s, and at age two made my first summer trip to Disneyland, a family tradition that would continue for another dozen or so years. As a kid I watched "The Wonderful World of Color/Disney" on Sunday nights and poured over the pages of "Disney News: The Official Magazine of Magic Kingdom Club Families." The first two movies I remember seeing in a theater were "Mary Poppins" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

My indoctrination into the Church of Walt started at a young age and I've never outgrown it. I still make regular trips to Disneyland and (when it's in the budget) Walt Disney World. I've been to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank twice and the Walt Disney Archives once (another story, another time). I have a collection of Mickey Mouse figurines--Steamboat Willie mostly--that adorn the mantle over my fireplace (yes, we call it the Mickey mantle). I own a DVD of every animated feature put out during Walt's lifetime, and most every one released since his death. I have boxes full of Disney brochures, guidebooks and souvenirs, and shelves full of Disney books and biographies. I've got it bad, and since you've read this far, I suspect you do too.

Which brings us to this blog. Since 2005, I've been occasionally blogging, covering news and generally screwing around on MiceChat, for my money the best Disney fan board on the 'Net. Lately, however, I've been itching to be better heard above the cacophony of nearly 30,000 slightly (and not-so-slightly) crazed Disney fans. I've also been looking for an excuse to re-energize my neglected Disney News Archive website (I promise to do a better job, honest). Shooting off my mouth about all things Disney, not just vintage magazines, seems the best way to do that.

So, what can you expect here in the future? I'm really not sure, and that's the beauty of it. Like my fandom, I plan to be all over the board discussing park happenings, movie and video releases, Disney history, personal reminiscences--whatever comes to mind and sounds interesting. I plan to update my blog every Sunday (notice I said "plan" not "promise") and maybe post occasional items during the week as the mood strikes me. I don't expect to cover a lot of breaking Disney news (there are a ton of other sites out there that do it much better), but I won't hesitate to throw in my opinion when the situation warrants.

And what would you like to hear about? Click the "Feedback" link to the right and let me know what's on your mind.

Welcome to Tim's Disney News Archive Blog. I hope you like it.