Thursday, July 28, 2011

Odds and Ends and Trivial Things

For those of you keeping score at home, I began my 30-Day Disney Movie Challenge 95 days ago. OK, so I got a little sidetracked. What do you say we wrap this list up now and move on? Here are the final six "days"...

Movie With the Most Beautiful Scenery

Artist Tyrus Wong only worked on one Disney film in his illustrious career. His exquisite impressionist backgrounds for Bambi still inspire artists and animators to this day.

Movie I'm Most Embarrassed to Say I Like

Hi. My name is Tim. I'm 49 years old and I love the Disney Channel's original High School Musical (the two sequels, not so much). Don't judge me.

Movie With My Favorite Villain

If being the God of the Underworld in Hercules didn't make him badass enough, actor James Woods voiced Hades with the slimy charm of a Hollywood agent. "We dance, we kiss, we schmooze, we carry on, we go home happy. What do you say?" Brilliantly evil.

Movie With My Favorite Hero

Wall-E is the strong, silent type with a romantic streak a mile wide. Through diligence and perseverance, he saves the Earth AND gets the girl. What more could you want in a hero?

First Disney Movie I Ever Remember Watching

I don't remember much from the first time I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but I do remember the hag. Images like that stay with you when you're five years old.

Last Disney Movie I Watched

Winnie the Pooh. I'm sure I left a review lying around here somewhere.


Donny Osmond Redux

You may have noticed the story I posted about Donny Osmond on Sunday night disappeared suddenly on Tuesday afternoon only to be replaced by a disclaimer. Without going into too much detail (I'm pretty much not allowed to), suffice it to say that some higher-ups with Secret Fortune felt I divulged too much information about a television show that's still in development. Although I was not bound by a confidentiality agreement at the time I wrote the story, I was asked by the show's producers to remove the story, which I did. I've since agreed to not divulge any additional details about the show or my experiences with it.

That said, I have nothing but kind words and gratitude for Donny Osmond and the show staff I worked with. I wish them all success with Secret Fortune.


With only three weeks left until the competition starts, D23 has stepped up promoting the Ultimate Disney Trivia Tournament being held during the D23 Expo in Anaheim. Yesterday, they posted a "Special Message From Ludwig Von Drake" with additional details about the event that will take place over two days and win someone a cruise on the Disney Dream.

Be warned, I plan on winning that cruise and being crowned the ultimate Disney scholar. If you're planning on competing as well, let me know. I'd love to hear from you before I crush your hopes and dreams at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I guess I should start studying then, right?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Backstage With Donny Osmond

At the request of parties associated with Donny Osmond and Secret Fortune, this post has been removed. I apologize for the inconvenience.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Winnie the Pooh' is Nostalgic, Delightful Fun

I managed to miss out on last weekend's Harry Potter juggernaut in favor of a nostalgic trip to the Hundred Acre Wood. I had my 4-year old granddaughter in tow to justify Christopher Robin's bedroom over Hogwarts, but I would've gladly seen Winnie the Pooh without her (sorry Donna). She was more excited about seeing The Smurfs in two weeks anyway. I really need to keep working on her. She can't possibly be related to me.

Winnie the Pooh is a charming, lovingly crafted film rendered in the classic 2D style. It has the lush, deceptively simple watercolor backgrounds that evoke both the late 1960s Disney cartoons and E. H. Shepard's illustrations in the original A. A. Milne stories. The story is of little consequence. Like so many other Pooh stories, it's a day in the life of the honey-loving bear and his friends. The morose donkey Eeyore loses his tail. Christopher Robin is mistakenly thought lost and captured by a fierce imaginary creature called a Backson--that steals your socks and makes your clocks run slow. There are no explosions, elaborate special effects or fart jokes in Winnie the Pooh. The most violent thing that happens is bouncy Tigger pounces on a red balloon.

All these benign goings-on may lead you to believe Winnie the Pooh is just a movie for kids. If you buy into that, then you are indeed a bear of very little brain. Safe for children? Absolutely. But to dismiss Winnie the Pooh as mere kiddie fare is to not fully appreciate the artistry and fun of the film. The voice cast is excellent, especially Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson as the pompous Owl and the versatile Jim Cummings who does double duty as the voice of both Tigger and Pooh. It's also a pleasure to hear Monty Python alum John Cleese narrate the film, much in the same manner as Sebastian Cabot did in the originals. That familiarity should resonate with adults, who will also appreciate the opening live action shots in Christopher Robin's bedroom and the way the animated characters literally pop right out of the storybook--and occasionally get tangled up in the letters.

In a summertime full of the usual loud, effects-heavy "event" films, Winnie the Pooh is a nostalgic and delightful time at the movies.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nominate the Sherman Brothers for the Kennedy Center Honors

(l. to r.) Robert Sherman,
Richard Sherman and Walt Disney
Robbie Sherman, one of the sons of Disney Legend Robert Sherman, has started a grassroots campaign to get his father and his uncle recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors. As most Disney fan knows, the Sherman Brothers were the house composers at the Walt Disney Studios during the 1960s and were responsible for a multitude of classic songs for Disney films such as Mary Poppins, Summer Magic, The Happiest Millionaire, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. They also composed the eternal "It's a Small World (After All)." Outside of Disney, Richard and Robert were the songwriting talents behind the movies Snoopy Come Home, Charlotte's Web, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and many others. They have known success in film, television and on Broadway and have won both Oscars and Grammies for their work. In 2009, their lives were honestly and poignantly presented in the documentary "The Boys."

The following letter has been making the rounds on various Disney blogs, message boards and history sites. I'm happy to lend my support to the campaign and urge all readers of The Mouse Castle to do so as well. For the price of stamp, you can help the Sherman Brothers receive one of the truly prestigious honors in entertainment.

July 14, 2011 
Dear Friends of the Sherman Brothers: 
WE NEED YOUR HELP! A number of people have been speaking with me about getting the Sherman Brothers nominated for the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors and I certainly think it’s a great idea! If you are willing to help out with this, please write a letter recommending the Sherman Brothers for this high profile commendation. Letters to this effect should be sent to the following address: 
The Kennedy Center Honors
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20566 
Also, be sure to make it clear at the top of your letter that your letter is “RE: SHERMAN BROTHERS FOR 2011 KENNEDY CENTER HONORS”. 
Grassroots campaigns are officially welcomed by KCH. The deciding committee will be meeting in August, so letters should be sent out ASAP! Additionally I have arranged for copies of “Walt’s Time” (the SB’s joint autobiography), “The Boys” (a documentary film) and “The Sherman Brothers’ Songbook” (a 2 disc CD) to be made available to the committee as well. 
The Sherman Brothers are my father and uncle respectively, and for that reason I can’t really be expected to be objective on the matter. Nevertheless, I feel confident in the assertion that no other songwriters’ music and lyrics better capture the essence of our civilization’s highest ideals and aspirations. It is for this reason as well as so many other, immeasurable contributions which the Sherman Brothers have made to the arts and culture, that I hope that you will join me in this effort. 
Please let me know if you decide to write a letter. It will be useful to have a general count. Lastly, if anyone reading this personally knows someone on the KCH Deciding Committee, a conversation with that person would be extremely helpful as well. Any other ideas are welcome too. Thank you in advance for your efforts. 
Very truly yours, 
Robbie Sherman

If you grew up loving Disney as I did, you grew up loving Sherman Brothers songs. Please send your letter today.

For more information on the Kennedy Center Honors, please visit

Last year, it was my honor to meet Richard Sherman.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jim Henson, Disney Legend?

Last month, Disney announced this year's Disney Legends Award winners. This annual honor, recognizing "the many individuals whose imagination, talents and dreams have created the Disney magic," will be presented once again during the D23 Expo in Anaheim.

This year's honorees range from the deserving (Jodi Benson, Paige O'Hara, Lea Salonga) to the long overdue (Guy Williams, Jack and Bonita Wrather). There's at least one I think is a bit premature (Anika Noni Rose, loved your work in The Princess and the Frog, but it's far too recent a movie to boost you to Legends status).

And then there's Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets.

Jim Henson on the Summer 1990
cover of Disney News, released
shortly after his death
Henson is a legend, make no mistake, but is he really a Disney Legend? His best work, creating the characters for Sesame Street and later The Muppet Show, was done years before the Muppets were even a blip on Disney's radar. It wasn't until 1989 that Henson began talking with Disney about acquiring Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang. It appeared to be a done deal with Disney and Henson forming a creative partnership that would eventually produce MuppetVision 3D at the Disney theme parks plus several television specials. After Henson's sudden death in May 1990, however, the deal fell through. Disney kept MuppetVision 3D, but didn't buy the Muppets outright until 2004 (the Sesame Street Muppets remained the property of the Children's Television Workshop).

You can argue that since Henson completed the principal filming of MuppetVision 3D (that's his voice as Kermit), it's sufficient to qualify him as a Disney Legend. I think that's a bit of a stretch. Henson's legacy was with his own company and his famous creations, not with Disney. Disney's eventual ownership of the Muppets does nothing to change that.

Can Disney recognize whomever they want as a Legend? Absolutely. But all this does is make me question their motives. If Walt Disney Pictures wasn't making a big push for their film The Muppets coming out later this year, would Jim Henson even be a candidate for a Legends Award? I think not.

So, who would I want instead as a Disney Legend? Here's my short list of names deserving recognition:

Bobby Driscoll (r.) with
Disney Legend Robert Newton
Bobby Driscoll
Driscoll was one of Disney's earliest and brightest child stars in the 1940s and 50s, appearing in Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart and most notably as Jim Hawkins opposite Robert Newton's Long John Silver in Treasure Island. In 1950, Driscoll received a special Oscar recognizing his outstanding juvenile performances. He also holds the distinction of being the first performer to star in a Disney live action film and also voice a major Disney animated character. He provided the voice of Peter Pan in the 1953 film.

Sadly, Driscoll's life is also the tragic worst-case scenario for every child star who couldn't handle the pressures of early fame and outgrew the cuteness of youth. As Driscoll got older, acting roles became fewer. His young adulthood was marred by a spiraling drug addiction and multiple run-ins with the law. He died homeless and alone in an abandoned New York City tenement in 1968. He was 31. Largely forgotten, he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. It would be more than a year before his body was identified by a fingerprint match.

Whether the nature of his final years or simply the passage of time has kept Driscoll from becoming a Disney Legend, his exclusion is a huge oversight. He should be honored for the remarkable body of work during his early career. Disney needs to make it right.

Donald Novis
The passing of Golden Horseshoe legends Wally Boag and Betty Taylor earlier this year reminds us of the other performers Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue shared the stage with. Fulton Burley may be the first name that comes to mind with his 25 years of service to the show (he was named a Disney Legend with Boag and Taylor in 1995), but it was Donald Novis who played the Horseshoe's resident Irish tenor for the first seven years of the Golden Horseshoe Revue. It was at Novis' invitation that Wally Boag even auditioned for the show, earning Boag a gig that would last 27 years.

Novis' signature tunes were "Dear Old Donegal" and "Beautiful Dreamer." If his voice sounded familiar to Disney fans, it was because he also recorded the lovely "Love is a Song" for the 1942 animated classic Bambi--another notch in his belt for consideration as a Disney Legend.

Novis left the Golden Horseshoe Revue in 1962 due to poor health and passed away in 1966.

Margaret Kerry and me, April 2007
Margaret Kerry
Her employment with Disney lasted mere months, but oh, what came out of it. Hired by the Studio in the early 1950s for her dancing and pantomime abilities, Margaret Kerry became the live action model for Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. Her physical gestures and facial expressions, acted out on a huge sound stage with over-sized props, inspired animator Marc Davis to create the now iconic pixie. Don't let the urban legend fool you. Marilyn Monroe was never the inspiration for Tinker Bell. It was all Margaret.

In her later years, Margaret has appeared at countless fan expos and memorabilia shows, charmingly preaching the gospel according to Tink. While only a handful of these shows are official Disney events, Margaret has nevertheless become an unofficial Disney ambassador. If you've ever met her in person (her fans are legion), you know the magic she brings. No one sprinkles the pixie dust like Margaret Kerry.

Tony Baxter
Tony Baxter
In his 40+ years with Disney, Tony Baxter has gone from serving ice cream on Main Street to being a Senior Vice President with Walt Disney Imagineering. Along the way, he's been the driving force behind the design and construction of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones Adventure, not to mention the resurrection of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. He is easily the most recognizable of modern day Imagineers and is hugely popular with fans. It seems every person who's met him has a Tony Baxter story to tell. That discussion always includes how enthusiastic and respectful he is for Disney theme park history. He's a fan, just like us. He's just the one with the really cool job.

At last year's Destination D event at the Disneyland Hotel, Disneyland president George Kalogridis was asked about the chances of bringing the PeopleMover back to Tomorrowland. He acknowledged there were challenges, particularly in complying with current California safety laws, but, he added, "as long as Tony Baxter is thinking, there is hope." That's exactly the type of confidence you'd expect to have in a legend.

Glen Keane
Let's take a look at some of Glen Keane's credits as a Disney animator and supervising animator, shall we? Elliot, Pete's Dragon; Professor Ratigan, The Great Mouse Detective; Ariel, The Little Mermaid; Beast, Beauty and the Beast; Aladdin; Pocahontas; Tarzan. Tell me again why this man isn't a Disney Legend?

Andreas Deja
Another Disney animator with remarkable credits, Andreas Deja has a special knack for villains: Gaston, Beauty and the Beast; Jafar, Aladdin; Scar, The Lion King. He's also a trusted name when it comes to classic characters, animating Mickey Mouse in Runaway Brain and The Prince & the Pauper as well as Goofy in How to Hook Up Your Home Theater. Most recently, he was the supervising animator for Tigger in the new Winnie the Pooh movie opening Friday.

Who else do you feel is deserving of a Disney Legends Award? Please share your comments below.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thirty Days of Disney Movies, Day Twenty-Four - Favorite Movie Soundtrack

Boys and girls of every age
Wouldn't you like to see something strange?
Come with us and you will see
This, our town of Halloween.

What's this? Why it's Jack Skellington.
OK, I'm cheating a bit here. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas didn't start out as a Disney film. In 1993, it was released under Disney's Touchstone Pictures banner. Eighteen years, an annual Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay and a ton of Jack Skellington merchandise later, however, it's gone Disney all the way.

Which is fine by me. Because besides being one of Disney's latter day film classics, the music is amazing.

Composer Danny Elfman, the former front man for Oingo Boingo and a frequent music collaborator with Burton, was never better in writing the songs, composing the score and providing the singing voice of Jack Skellington in Nightmare. His songs have the sweep of great classical music--even opera--but also the raucous accessibility of a British music hall and the intimacy of a French cafe. That these varying styles all effectively serve a dark netherworld of Halloween creatures taking a Christmas bump in the night is quite an accomplishment.

And, oh those lyrics. Devilishly fun and delightfully evil.

Kidnap the Sandy Claws
Beat him with a stick
Lock him up for ninety years
See what makes him tick.

This is the most non-Disney of Disney music. As much as I love the sublime song craft of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), Elfman's compositions stand out because they are so unique and so in tune to Burton's marvelously twisted vision.

My compliments from me to you
On this, your most intriguing hat
Consider, though, this substitute
A bat in place of this old rat.

Because Burton's name is above the title, it's often assumed that he directed the film. In fact, Burton produced Nightmare and wrote the story for it. The director was stop-motion animation master Henry Selick who also directed James and the Giant Peach and Coraline.

It's funny, I'm laughing
You really are too much
And now, with your permission
I'm going to do my stuff.

Well, what are you going to do?

I'm gonna do the best I can.

The first time I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas I went right out and got the CD soundtrack. I still have it and it still gets regular play on my iPod.

Nightmare is that rare film that's as much fun to just listen to as it is to watch.

This is the latest installment of my 30-Day Disney Movie Challenge. Next up, the most beautiful Disney movie scenery.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pixar Gets Original Again With 'Brave'

Toy Story 3 . . . sequel.

Cars 2 . . . sequel.

Monsters University, coming in 2013 . . . sequel.

Doesn't Pixar do anything original anymore?

As a matter of fact, it does.

Next year, Pixar will release Brave, a tale derived from Scottish lore about a skilled archer named Merida who "confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts to discover the true meaning of courage."

Quite a departure from Lightning McQueen. This has got to be a good thing.

Below are concept art, production stills and the latest teaser trailer for the film, which opens June 22, 2012.

Monday, July 4, 2011

'Cars 2' Fun and Games

I'm enjoying this three-day holiday weekend by immersing myself in some digital doodads from the world of Cars 2. What? I should be outside enjoying myself? Swimming? Barbecuing? Naaaa. I gotta get to level five on Cars 2: The Video Game.

Yes, I know there's a real world out there. I read about it on the Internet.

Cars 2: The Video Game is a fun and surprisingly challenging racing game available on the major gaming platforms (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PC and Mac). I'm playing the Wii version and getting a kick out of the more than 20 Cars characters I can race as and against. The backstory of the game is you're a new secret agent training at C.H.R.O.M.E. (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations and Motorized Espionage), the international spy school from which Cars 2 characters Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell sprang. Your object is to advance through the spy ranks by completing various driving tests, from standard racing to battle racing (with your own arsenal of in-car weapons) to hunter challenges where you seek and destroy enemy cars on a closed course. There are also survival races where you must evade the heat ray of the evil Professor Z while doing some nifty precision driving and protecting your vehicle. If this all sounds a bit violent for little ones, Disney (with developer Avalanche Software) tries to lessen the impact by assuring players that they're all part of one big simulation inside the "Holodome" at C.H.R.O.M.E. For me, this doesn't change the fact that the most fun about the game is blowing stuff up. It's Split/Second meets Mario Kart.

Master tricks like backwards and two-wheel driving and you can earn extra points and virtual badges (I've gotten quite good on two wheels; backwards driving, not so much). Finish in the top three of each event and you can move on to higher stages of the game, unlocking new tracks and vehicles as you go.

Cars 2: The Video Game is for 1-4 players, ages six and up. It's available now from Amazon and most video game retailers.

Cars 2: Agents of C.H.R.O.M.E. (for iPhone and iPod Touch) calls itself a side-scrolling racing game, but you're not really racing against anyone or anything, even time. What you are doing is collecting tokens while jumping over obstacles and navigating a series of ramps, platforms and skyhooks to earn points. There are eight levels in each of three Cars 2 environments (Oil Rig, Tokyo, London) that are fairly easy to work through and you can play as either Lightning McQueen, Mater, Holly Shiftwell or Finn McMissile (although your choice of character doesn't alter the gameplay). For 99 cents at the App Store, it's a mildly diverting bit of Cars 2 fun for ages four and up.

The Cars 2 Storybook Deluxe is the latest of Disney's digital books for the iPad. It's a condensed version of the movie's storyline, geared for kids, with attractive artwork and fun animation activated with a tap of the screen. Children and parents can follow along with the audio narration or turn it off and read at their own paces. You can record your own narration, but this is the one feature of the app that falls short. Since the microphone in the iPad (at least my first generation one) is not very powerful, your recorded voice is hard to hear over the story's music track, which cannot be muted. This pretty much defeats the purpose of recording your own voice. Note to developers: add an off switch or volume control to the music and we'll be good to go.

The Cars 2 Storybook Deluxe also comes with five digital coloring pages, five puzzles and two in-app games. It's currently selling for $5.99 in the App Store.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!