Sunday, February 27, 2011

Disney/Pixar Takes Four Awards on Oscar Night

Toy Story 3
On a night when The King's Speech reigned over the Academy Awards, Disney and Pixar performed royally, winning a total of four Oscars, two each for Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland.

As expected, Toy Story 3 won for Best Animated Feature, beating out How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist. It also won Best Original Song for We Belong Together, written by Randy Newman. It was Newman's second win out of twenty nominations in his prolific career. His only previous win was for 2001's If I Didn't Have You from Monsters, Inc. 

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland took home the gold statuettes in two of the three categories it was nominated for, winning for Art Direction and Costume Design.

In his acceptance speech, Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich thanked the many creative people involved in the film, calling Pixar "the most awesome place on earth to make movies." Backstage, he acknowledged his fan base, sending "a shout out to all my followers on Twitter. It's been a blast sharing this journey with you." He continued by saying, "My friend and Pixar colleague, the late Joe Ranft, always said that making movies is like throwing a party and the whole world is invited. Well, I hope you enjoyed our party because we have had a blast."

Oscar winner Lee Unkrich
Toy Story 3 lost its Best Picture nod to The King's Speech, which won a total of four Oscars including Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director (Tom Hooper) and Best Original Screenplay. Equalling The King's Speech's Oscar haul was Inception, which landed four awards for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects.

Best Actress went to Natalie Portman for her portrayal of the tortured ballerina in Black Swan. The Fighter scored wins in both Supporting categories for actor Christian Bale and actress Melissa Leo, who dropped an exuberant f-bomb during her acceptance speech that was bleeped during the broadcast.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

'Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation' Movie Stills Released

Woody, Buzz and the rest of the Toy Story gang will be back in theaters this summer in the short cartoon Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation. It will run with Cars 2, set for release on June 24.

In Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation, Barbie and Ken fail in an attempt to stowaway with Bonnie on a trip to Hawaii, so the rest of the toys try to create a tropical paradise of their own to make up for it--with less than stellar results.

Hawaiian Vacation is one of two Toy Story shorts coming out this year. The second one will debut during the holidays with Disney's new Muppets movie.

Oscar Well Wishes

The 83rd Academy Awards are tomorrow night in Hollywood and Toy Story 3 has five nominations, including Best Picture and Best Animated Feature Film. Best of luck to director Lee Unkrich and the entire Pixar creative team on what should be a memorable night (you're a lock for Animated Film).

The Mouse Castle will also be rooting for Pixar's uber clever Day & Night, a nominee for Best Animated Short Film. This light hearted take on understanding and appreciating our differences was directed by Teddy Newton.

Related Article: 
'Toy Story 3' Gets Five Oscar Nominations; Three for 'Alice in Wonderland'

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A 'Cars 2' Toy Story

Last week, Disney unveiled their new Cars 2 toy line at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Disney will release over 300 items in 2011, ranging from die-cast cars to track sets to RC vehicles to games from manufacturers that include Mattel, LEGO and Hasbro.

Actors Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, who voice British super spies Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell in Cars 2, were on hand to show off some new toys and talk about their work on the film:

Mattel demoed Lightning McQueen Alive, a 1:55 scale car that uses touch sensors and micro technology to emulate the look, sounds and actions of its on-screen character, a new concept for a toy of such small size (video courtesy Disney Living):

Lightning McQueen Alive will be released this fall.

Other toys that caught my eye:

Ridemakerz lets you totally customize your Cars 2 vehicle by choosing from multiple body designs, wheels, accessories and decals. Bodies and chassis start at $12.99 with accessories starting at $2.99. Available now at Toys 'R' Us and the Disney Store.

Secret Agent Finn McMissile comes fully-equipped with "'top secret' spy weapons, projectile missiles, sound effects, and thrilling transformations." He'll sell for $29.99 and will be available at mass retailers in May.
Take a trip back to Radiator Springs and build your own Flo's V8 Cafe in LEGO. The set includes Lightning McQueen, Mater, Sally, Sarge, Fillmore and Flo. Available in May for $59.99.

Train to become a master spy for CHROME (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations and Motorized Espionage) in Cars 2: The Video Game. Players of all ages and skill levels can choose from over 20 characters to train, race and accompany on hazardous spy missions. Available this summer on Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, Nintendo DS and PC/MAC platforms.  

Cars 2 will be in theaters on June 24.

Monday, February 14, 2011

'Gnomeo & Juliet' Behind the Scenes

On its opening weekend, Disney/Touchstone's new animated film Gnomeo & Juliet more than held its own, grossing $25.5 million and finishing third behind the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston romcom Just Go With It ($31 million) and Justin Bieber's concert film Never Say Never ($30.3 million). That's not bad for a movie that got decidedly mixed reviews and almost didn't get made to begin with.

Here's my inside look at the making of Gnomeo & Juliet, with insight from singer/songwriter and executive producer Elton John:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

'Tron' and 'Tron: Legacy' Debut on Blu-ray April 5

Grid geeks rejoice! Disney will release Tron and Tron: Legacy on Blu-ray April 5.

The eye-popping Legacy sequel, starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde, will come in 2- and 4-disc Combo Packs that have both Blu-ray and standard DVD discs. The 4-pack will include Blu-ray 3D and digital copies as well. A single-disc DVD version will also be available.

The original Tron will be re-released to video in 2-disc Blu-ray Combo Packs and 2-disc DVDs.

Want the whole enchilada? You can also get a 5-disc set containing both movies.

Disney will offer their new Second Screen "interactive experience" on the Tron: Legacy Blu-rays. Synched up with your Blu-ray player, you can view exclusive bonus materials on your iPad or laptop while you watch the movie.

Also on April 5, Disney will release Tron: Legacy Reconfigured, a remix of the movie soundtrack by French music duo Daft Punk.

Related articles:
'Tron: Legacy,' a Cinematic E-Ticket Ride
The Legacy of 'Tron'

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New 'Winnie the Pooh' Movie Links to Disney's Past

Disney released some new concept art, design sketches and plot details for their upcoming return to the Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh. 

Pooh will be voiced by the versatile Jim Cummings, who also provides the voice of Tigger.

The story takes place over the course of a single day, which begins, as usual, with the "silly old bear" going in search of honey. His search gets sidetracked when gloomy Eeyore (Bud Luckey) loses his tail and his friends decide to help him find a new one.

The adventure continues when Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) briefly departs the Hundred Acre Wood, leaving behind a note saying "Back soon"...

...which Owl (Craig Ferguson) misinterprets as meaning Christopher Robin has been captured by a vicious beast called a "Backson."

And soon, all of the friends are off to find and rescue Christopher Robin.

These simple story elements draw their inspiration directly from A.A. Milne's original books. It's very gratifying to see Disney getting back to the roots of what made the Pooh films of the 1960s and 70s so great. Like its early predecessors, Winnie the Pooh will once again begin with live footage of Christopher Robin's bedroom before leaping onto the pages of a Winnie the Pooh book, a reminder that what we're about to see is the product of both an author's and a young boy's imaginations.

Another tribute to the past is having senior story artist Burny Mattinson as part of the Winnie the Pooh's creative team. He drew the story sketches you see below (color by Paul Felix):

Mattinson is a 58-year veteran of the Walt Disney Studios. He began his career in the Disney mailroom at the age of 18. Despite having no formal art training, he was a talented artist and within six months started working as an in-betweener on Lady and the Tramp.

Over the years, Mattinson perfected his craft, working under legendary animators Marc Davis and Eric Larson. Mattinson's credits included 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book and The Rescuers. He wrote, produced and directed The Great Mouse Detective. He also worked on all the original Pooh short subjects, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974).

Later, as a story developer, he contributed to modern Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. "Storyboards," he said, "are as close to direction as you can get,  You're telling cameras where to go, what's happening on screen, where to cut, and really making a blueprint for the film."

Mattinson was named a Disney Legend in 2008.

Winnie the Pooh opens nationwide in the U.S. on July 15.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Alice in Wonderland': Still Brillig After All These Years

Of the movies released during Disney's second "golden age" of animation, Alice is Wonderland is my favorite. Lacking the warm, gooey center of Cinderella or One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Alice is the most non-Disney of Disney feature films, an episodic farce that piles gag upon gag in rapid succession. You don't invest any real emotion in the characters, unless you count silliness as an emotion. You just hang on and enjoy the ride. Critics have cited this as a problem with the film. I say this is what makes it stand out, especially with the classic animation and iconic characters that the Disney artists derived from Lewis Carroll's original stories.

The familiar tale of an English girl's trip down the rabbit hole, where she encounters singing flowers, a perpetual tea party and an evil queen with a penchant for croquet, is brought vividly to life through the color schemes of Mary Blair and the inventiveness of animation director Ward Kimball, who was responsible for the most memorable segments in the movie, the Mad Tea Party and the Cheshire Cat. In the tea party scene below, watch all the funny business Kimball crams into it, from a clever distribution of hats to the March Hare's twitchy gestures to the miraculous pouring of an entire cup of tea:

It was common practice for Disney to use the voice actors as models for their animated counterparts. Watch how the antics of real life comedians Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter) and Jerry Colonna (March Hare) translate to the screen:

For all its inspired lunacy, Kimball was still dissatisfied with the overall feel of Alice in Wonderland. For him, it was a problem of too many cooks spoiling the, uhhh, tea. As Kimball told film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films:
Here was a case of five directors each trying to top the other guy and make his sequences the biggest and craziest in the show. This had a self-cancelling effect on the final product.
The only real "mad" thing in the whole picture, in my opinion, turned out to be the Cheshire Cat! Why? Because compared to the constant, all-out, wild gyrations of the other characters, he played it real cool. His quiet, underplayed subtleties consequently stole the show!

It also didn't hurt that the Cheshire Cat was voiced by Sterling Holloway. Holloway's distinctive rasp made him a Disney voice over favorite for decades, beginning as the messenger stork in Dumbo and eventually leading to the roles of Winnie the Pooh and the sibilant snake Kaa in The Jungle Book.

With all apologies to Ward Kimball, Alice in Wonderland doesn't have the grandeur of Sleeping Beauty or the adventurousness of Peter Pan, but for sheer entertainment it remains my go-to Disney movie.

The 60th Anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland is available now on Blu-ray.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of Disneyland Presidents and Breakfast Meat

Gather a hundred or so hardcore Disney fans at Anaheim's ESPN Zone for breakfast, add appearances by two Disneyland presidents (the very first one and the current one) and you can be certain everyone will be leaving the  event with one thing on their minds.


Seriously, have you ever tried the bacon at ESPN Zone? Actually, you probably haven't. ESPN Zone is just open to the public for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is saved for special events.

Holy crap, that bacon was good! Crispy, peppery and maple-y. I'm not exaggerating when I say people were still talking about it the next day. Search the Web and you'll find songs written in honor of it. If I'm the only Disney blogger commenting about its greasy, flavorful goodness, I'll be stunned.

Me with Disneyland's first president,
Jack Lindquist...but no bacon in sight.
Oh yeah, Disney Legend Jack Lindquist and George Kalogridis were at ESPN Zone too. Signing books and chatting with guests, blah blah blah.

Jack recently published his memoir, In Service to the Mouse. It's an engaging collection of stories recalling his 38 years with Disney, most notably as Disneyland's first president. Once I finished eating my bacon, it was a pleasure to meet Jack in person. He recalls Walt Disney fondly, but he also remembers how demanding his boss could be. "You could make mistakes," said Jack. "You just couldn't make the same mistakes twice."

As I chatted with Jack, I reminded him of one of my favorite stories in his book, a night when he and and a small group of Disneyland employees (including future Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Milt Albright), performed chants and tribal dances in front of a group of stunned Disneyland Hotel conventioneers as "The Fantastic Lindquist Indian Show" (don't ask--read the book). There would be no second performance. Of the cultural extravaganza, Jack just smiled to me and said, "We worked hard and we played hard."

Me with current Disneyland president,
George Kalogridis. There may be bacon
on the table behind us.
The surprise guest of the morning was current Disneyland president, George Kalogridis. Originally expected to just give a brief introduction of Jack and leave, George instead spent more than an hour at ESPN Zone talking to fans and signing autographs. Like any good Disney cast member, George wore his name badge (like we weren't going to know who he was), which had his hometown of Winter Haven, Florida printed on it. Being a one-time Orlando resident myself, George and I talked briefly about living in Florida (he began his Disney career as a busboy at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort) and my own near miss of working for Disney (during high school, I was offered a job in the Main Street Ice Cream shop--I turned it down to take a job closer to home).

Note to future Disneyland presidents: If you're going to score points with the public, this is how you do it. George Kalogridis is a very busy man--billion-dollar expansions of Disney California Adventure will do that to you--and yet, he still found time to a honor a predecessor at a private event and talk directly with fans. In my copy of Jack's book, George wrote, "Thanks for your love of Disneyland." He means it. He exudes a type of sincerity and charm that is rare among corporate executives, not just those at Disney. He hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings at the Contemporary. He's one of us, a Disney fan who enjoys talking about what he loves to do.

Props to Dusty Sage, Indiana Jenn and all the fine folks at MiceChat for organizing this event. Over the weekened, MiceChat marked its sixth anniversary as the premiere news and messaging website for Disney fans. Here's to many more years of success.

And thanks for the bacon. It was awesome!