Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Home Video Roundup: 'Phineas and Ferb,' 'Bambi II'

Catching up on some recent and upcoming Disney home video releases:

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension

The pleasure of Phineas and Ferb is that it's a TV show for kids that never forgets parents enjoy it too. Heck, I watch it and don't even have children at home. On the surface, the antics of two clever and resourceful half brothers who go on wild summertime adventures, aggravate their sister, and take care of a pet platypus that's really a secret agent, is just goofy, wholesome fun. That the show is full of enough puns and pop-culture references to keep adults entertained is a bonus.

Such is the joy of Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, the Disney Channel Original Movie now available on DVD. In it, the boys crash a giant shuttlecock (just another day for them) into the evil lair of Dr. Doofenshmirtz and begin an adventure that takes them to "a brand new reality, a particle duality, a new dimensionality" where nothing is like what it was at home. In this parallel universe, Phineas and Ferb discover the true identity of their platypus pet Perry and join forces with their other-dimension sister Candace, who turns out to be the leader of a resistance movement against a truly evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, who has plans of his own not only to rule his own dimension, but Phineas and Ferb's as well.

Movie and TV references abound, some obvious, others a bit more subtle. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for takes on Star Wars, Star Trek, Raiders of the Lost Ark and even The Jeffersons, The Honeymooners and Laverne & Shirley. Some of these moments may be lost on small kids, so be prepared when they stare at you, wondering what's so funny.

Oh, and on the way, don't forget to enjoy the muffin-serving Norm-bots and the furry-vicious Goozim monster. They're fun too. Plus, your DVD comes with a kit to build your own Platypult. It's cool!

Deep down in my soul, I'm 12, OK?

Bambi II

A few years ago, Disney decided (mercifully) to stop producing direct-to-video sequels and prequels to its classic animated films (well, sort of, if you count the relentless Tinker Bell/Fairies franchise). This has not stopped Disney, however, from re-releasing select titles from the days Michael Eisner ruled the kingdom.

For the most part, the DisneyToon movies made in the 1990s and 2000s were cheap imitations of their originals, with flat animation and heavy-handed "message" story lines. They were cheaply made cash cows that diluted the Disney brand and damaged the reputation of Disney animation.

A few films, however, did stand out from the crowd with a higher degree of artistry and story telling than their Toon brethren. Bambi II was one of them.

That's not to say that Bambi II (awkward title--it's working title was the far superior The Great Prince of the Forest) ranks among the classics of Disney animation. It doesn't. But it does have a serviceable story and some lush and very lovely background animation. It looks particularly good in its latest Blu-ray release.

The story is what I guess you'd call a "midquel." It actually occurs during the original Bambi, after Bambi's mother is shot (oops, sorry, was that a spoiler?) and before the animals reappear in the spring. Bambi is on his own, save for his father, the Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by Patrick Stewart in a nice bit of casting). Bambi's father is not accustomed to the responsibilities of motherhood. He's a serious "big picture" guy, accomplished in looking out for the safety of the herd, but uncomfortable with raising a rambunctious fawn one-on-one. Can he and his son form a bond and, together, survive the harsh winter?

The story is predictable and sappy--Bambi learns responsibility; dad lightens up--but it's told with a respect for the characters that's endearing (enDEARing, get it?). The movie climaxes with a suspenseful and tightly-edited chase scene involving Bambi and a pack of vicious hunting dogs. It's really well done, especially for a DisneyToon entry.

I'm sure you have your own opinion about whether or not classic Disney animated films should have been followed-up on or retooled, but Bambi II does stand on its own as a good--not great--chapter in the Disney animated canon. At least it's not as egregious as The Lion King 3D.

The Lion King 3D

(sigh) I couldn't bring myself to attend the screening of The Lion King 3D during the D23 Expo. If you read my blog, you know why. I did, however, agree to see a sneak preview of the movie in 3D Blu-ray on the Expo floor. I'm happy to report the Blu-ray transfer is fantastic, with stunning color and excellent sound.

The 3D, however, is freaking annoying.

The Lion King is one of Disney's great film achievements. Produced by Don Hahn and co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, it was Disney at the top of its game during its 1990s animation renaissance. But The Lion King is, was and always will be a 2D motion picture. Viewing the opening "Circle of Life" number in 3D illustrates the problem with the conversion. While it was kind of fun seeing Zazu float in front of my eyes as he glided up to Pride Rock, the rest of the scene involved so many quick cuts and focus shifts among the animals in the Pride Lands (which worked terrific in 2D), the 3D became a jarring distraction. I was watching a series of effects, not enjoying a classic animated film. I'm afraid the opening four minutes was about all I could take.

The Lion King 3D will open in select theaters on September 16, followed by a Blu-ray 2D and 3D release on October 4. I'll be sticking with the 2D, thank you very much.

Coming Soon: Cars 2 and Planes

Pixar's underrated Cars 2 comes to home video on November 1. Lightning McQueen and Mater's foray into international espionage will be released on Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D, Movie Download and DVD. Disney will also release an 11-Disc Combo Pack that includes both Cars movies--plus a collection of Mater's Tall Tales short cartoons--packaged together on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy.

Three and a Half Men's Jon Cryer will provide the voice of Dusty, a small crop duster with big ambitions in DisneyToon Studios' Planes, due out in spring 2013. Inspired by the Cars franchise, Jon Lasseter will produce this direct-to-video release that will take the movies' hero on a "Wings Around the Globe Rally" to pursue his lifelong dream.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

D23 Expo: Photo Gallery

You never knew who you were going to run into wandering the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center during last weekend's D23 Expo:

Beauty and the artist: Paige O'Hara, the voice of Belle, and Mark Henn,
one of the supervising animators on Beauty and the Beast.

Bret Iwan, the current voice of Mickey Mouse.

(l. to r.) Disney author and historian Tim O'Day, Imagineer extraordinaire
Tony Baxter and D23 Expo moderator Craig Hodgkins.

Cindy Morgan, who played Lora/Yori in 1982's Tron.

No flash pictures, please! We archivists are frightfully
sensitive to bright lights. Dave Smith inside the Treasures
of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit.

The staff of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO.
Kaye Malins (far right) runs the museum and lives in the same house
Walt and his family lived in during the early 1900s.

Disney animator Eric Goldberg (l.) and art director/production designer Paul Felix.

Me with Eric Goldberg. His animation credits include the Genie in Aladdin,
Phil in Hercules and Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh. He also contributed to one of
my all time favorite animation sequences, the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment
from Fantasia 2000.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Walt Disney Family Museum and the Incredible Growing Walt!

I just got home yesterday from Disney's big fan event, the D23 Expo in Anaheim. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you've already gotten a taste of the many sights and experiences that went on at the Anaheim Convention Center. Over the next few days, I'll be throwing in a few more, with plenty of pictures and more words than will fit in a standard tweet.

The Walt Disney Family Museum's booth
at the 2011 D23 Expo
At the Expo, crowds were large and lines were long for the many stage presentations (poor crowd management by Disney if you ask me, but that's a conversation for another time). The best way to avoid the waiting, however, was to roam the main floor among all the pavilions and exhibits. There were delightful discoveries at every turn.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. This 40,000 square foot facility stands as an amazing testament to the life and career of Walt Disney. I've visited the museum on several occasions and I never cease to be mesmerized by the many fascinating and interactive galleries that trace a young man's journey from humble Midwest beginning to a perch atop an entertainment empire.

I spent some time at the Museum's booth at the Expo and was lucky enough to bump into Disney historian Paul Anderson, who had a "tall tale" to tell about a curious photo of Walt at Disneyland with two of his Davy Crockett stars.

Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum online at

Friday, August 12, 2011

Robbie Sherman Talks About His Father, the Sherman Brothers and the Kennedy Center Honors

On the set of Mary Poppins (l. to r.):
Richard Sherman, Julie Andrews,
Dick Van Dyke and Robert Sherman
Last month, I blogged about the campaign by Robbie Sherman to have his father and uncle, the Sherman Brothers, named as Kennedy Center Honorees. Since then, I reached out to Robbie and he kindly agreed to answer some questions by e-mail about the Sherman Brothers, their music and his relationship with his father Robert, a complex man of intellect and artistry.

Robert Sherman was born in 1925 and, besides being one half of the team that wrote such Disney musical classics as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "It's a Small World," and "Winnie the Pooh," he is also a decorated World War II veteran and an accomplished poet, sculptor and painter. In 2002, he moved from the United States to Great Britain, where he currently resides.

Tim: The Sherman Brothers have won many awards during their careers, two Oscars and a Grammy among them. What would be the significance of your father and uncle becoming Kennedy Center Honorees?

Robbie Sherman: Kennedy Center Honors is one of the most high profile accolades given to people in the entertainment business. For the Sherman Brothers to be included among the honorees would significantly elevate peoples' awareness of their work as well. I can think of no other songwriters' music and lyrics which more closely reflect what John Kennedy was all about: his spirit of optimism and confidence. Since the Kennedy Center Honors was created in the late president's memory, it would seem particularly fitting for the Sherman Brothers to be chosen for this honor.

Tim: How did the Kennedy Center Honors campaign begin? When did you decide this was an award to pursue?

RS: Every year in December, when the Kennedy Center Honorees were announced on television, I thought, "Somebody should do that for Dad and Uncle Dick.” So, I suppose it was always in the back of my mind. Specifically, though, last December I put together a step-by-step to-do list and, when there was time, I worked on it with one of our L.A. interns whose name is Matthew Pollard. A student of music and animation, Matthew is a recent graduate of Chapman College. We have no word yet whether or not the Sherman Brothers are going to get Kennedy Center Honors this year, but if it happens, it will be in large part because of Matt's efforts. He has also been a real force in moving along our United States distribution of Walt's Time books to school libraries. In May of this year we distributed close to 400 books in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone. After that was done, I put him onto Kennedy Center Honors, full force.

Robbie Sherman (l.) and
Robert Sherman, 2003
Tim: Why do you feel your father and your uncle are deserving of this honor?

RS: I'm not a big fan of the word "deserve.” The term seems, somehow, inherently presumptuous and inescapably pretentious. Frankly, if we were doing this just so that my dad and uncle could receive yet another plume in their caps, what would be the point? That said, both my father and uncle have been very appreciative of my efforts. You see, even though I don't think that the Sherman Brothers need to receive this honor (on a personal level), I strongly believe that their songs do. Sherman Brothers' songs have brightened all our lives. Intervening decades have demonstrated their lasting quality and cultural significance. The Sherman Brothers' work is marvelous, inventive, witty and often poignant. Ironically, because their work is so subtle and accessible, it's also sometimes overlooked. What's amazing is that their work continues to contribute so much to popular culture. The very words we use, even the way in which we think, has been shaped by these two men. I still hold that the only good reason to acknowledge great art is so that more people will, in turn, be exposed to it. And songs as positive and inspirational as the Sherman Brothers' should not be overlooked.

Tim: What type of support have you received from your family and from Richard Sherman's family in campaigning for the Kennedy Center Honors?

RS: That's an interesting question. As I've already shared, both my father and uncle have been very supportive of this effort. They greatly appreciate everything that their fans are doing as well, especially the letter writing. I mean, writing a letter represents a lot more than just clicking a "like" button on Facebook. Writing a letter takes a measure of time and focus. Of course I'm organizing things on this end, but we need everyone's support if we're going to make this happen.

Tim: What was it like growing up the son of a Sherman Brother? What is your fondest childhood memory?

RS: Growing up my uncle's son would have undoubtedly been very different from growing up my father's. Indeed, I recall discussing this very topic with my cousin Greg a dozen years ago. He was quite wistful about the matter as I remember it. I guess because my father and uncle are so different, there really isn't a single "quintessential" anecdote to illustrate "what it was like to be the son of a Sherman Brother" (to use your words). That's a long prelude, but I think that, inevitably, it's an essential part of the story. The aura was different specifically because the brothers are so famously dissimilar. I can't tell you what it was like being the "son of a Sherman Brother." But I can tell you what it was like being Bob Sherman's son.

First of all, our house was always filled with what I would call "an abundance of wonderment," if that makes sense. This is visually evident in any myriad family photos. My father is so many things-- a poet, painter, sculptor, archeologist--but, perhaps most of all, he is a natural scholar. If a subject should happen to capture his interest, he becomes a sponge to it, absorbing every bit of it.

When asked about my Dad, I always try to explain that first and foremost he is an intellectual. And the real ones are actually very rare. If you want to begin to understand my father, I believe that you first have to accept the notion that he lives in and for his own mind and is fed from the feast of intellectual pursuit. He has zero time for small talk or, for that matter, repeating stories he's already said. For that reason, you may have noticed, he rarely participates in interviews and almost always regrets having done so. But, I hasten to add that he is also extremely generous with his time and a profoundly good and kind person--perhaps to a fault. This generosity of spirit branches out in many directions.

The following is a vignette which I hope will give you a sense of what it was like growing up with a man like Bob Sherman for a dad:

While my grandfather may be known for his prowess at making kites (The Sherman Brothers song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” was inspired by their father Al Sherman’s skill at kite making—Tim), what I'll bet you were unaware of was that my father took this notion to another level altogether.

Robbie and his dad, 1971
One time when I was about nine or ten, my dad and I (but mostly my dad) designed and built a model airplane from scratch using only balsa wood, rubber bands and wax paper. In fact, the only pre-fabbed part of the airplane was the propeller, two small hooks and some 1" wheels (we bought those latter items at a local hobby shop). Where this fascination stemmed from, I have no idea.

Building the airplane was as much an intellectual exercise for my dad as it was a father/son activity. I'll never forget the experience--his intensity, his care for every detail and his remarkable sense of craftsmanship. It was a majestic thing to be a part of, really. It's a strange experience to put into words. My father made sure I was as much a part of the process as I wanted to be. I measured out strips of wax paper and balsa wood which he would then cut with his jigsaw. For him, building an airplane was as much about artistry as it was about tangibly digesting the science of flight. Somehow, he just seemed to know how one goes about harnessing the forces of lift, drag and thrust. Instinctively or through study, he understood how these forces would interplay with the body of the airplane we were building. I remember thinking at the time, that if he'd been alive a hundred years earlier, how he might have beaten the Wright Brothers at their own game.

Our airplane was a remarkably elegant device--about three feet long by three feet wide--and I greatly anticipated the day we would finally get to test it out together. It was such a cool experiment. There were no guarantees that it would actually fly, of course. But that's what made it so exciting!

The plane was built in two parts, the central body and the wings. Through the nose of the central body, we drilled a narrow hole, dropped a hook through the center of the propeller and ran a long, industrial size rubber band through the fuselage. At the plane's tail was another solid block of balsa wood and another hook. My dad tasked me with winding the propeller 100 revolutions (he explained that this would provide just the right amount of torque to give the airplane the speed it would need to attain lift). One summer day in 1978 (if my math is right), we tested the plane out, and you know what happened? It actually flew. It gained speed, achieved lift, and then, miraculously, it landed once more (and in one piece). After a few flights across the park, our beautiful plane crashed violently (and perhaps predictably) into a brick wall, but by then it no longer mattered. The experiment had been a success.

You see, building the airplane was never about creating a thing-- a trophy to brag about-- at least not for my dad. It was about seeing if we could design a working airplane from scratch, with no electricity required for flight. It was all about the intellectual challenge. This is what drives my father. It's what has always moved him forward through life. It's a hard concept for people to get their heads around, I think. It's amazing that an intellectual like my dad could also find a way to include his young son in what he was doing. There was no sense of distance (as one might surmise when dealing with a "true intellectual") and perhaps that is what makes the memory so special. He didn't come down to my level. To the contrary, you might say he gave me wings and provided the necessary lift. He's always been about "the next challenge.” That's probably why he never tried to repair the first plane or build a new one. He was already onto his next pursuit. It's never about reliving the past with my dad. So many of us are stuck living in the past, or off of it. But that way can never be the way forward. I am convinced that my father is largely misunderstood and, ironically, by some of the people who claim to know him the best. I can say without any doubt that he is easily the most fascinating person I have ever known.

Tim: What quality of your father's are you most proud of?

RS: His bravery. He has a truly fearless quality about him. I'm sure that this is a byproduct of his experience in the War.

Tim: Your father is also a painter and you have arranged for a number of exhibitions of his work. How would you describe his artistic talent? Do you have a favorite painting of his?

Robert Sherman's art (l. to r.): "Moses," "San Francisco," and "Sacrifice"

RS: I love most of his work. I'm particularly partial to a few of his paintings, though. "Moses,” "Sacrifice" and "San Francisco" are among my favorites. I love the detail in "Moses,” the expressiveness in "Sacrifice" and, because it hung outside my bedroom door for many years when I was growing up, I have always had a special place in my heart for "San Francisco.” I love the bright little red house hiding behind the darker buildings in the foreground. It somehow reminds me of my Dad's personality. The red house is kind of like the gleam in my father's eye. There's a particular optimism in that painting.

Tim: What can fans do to help support your Kennedy Center Honors campaign?

RS: Keep writing letters! And get others to write letters too. I just received a response from one of the members of the KCH board. He has agreed to suggest the Sherman Brothers for this year's honors. But that's still no guarantee that they'll get it. KCH has not yet met. Their decision will be made closer to the end of the month. Before, I only knew that they would be making their decision sometime in August. Now we know that it will be by the end of the month. So anyway, any support for this effort is welcomed and will certainly still be useful. It's not too late to write letters!


For more information on the Kennedy Center Honors, visit Letters in support of the Sherman Brothers should be sent to:

The Kennedy Center Honors
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20566

To join Robbie's Sherman Brothers group on Facebook, visit

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Phineas and Ferb Battle Across the Second Dimension

Phineas and Ferb's 104 days of summer vacation take a perilous turn in the new video game Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension, available today on PS3, Nintendo Wii and DS systems. The game is based on the Disney Channel Original Movie of the same name premiering this Friday.

In the game, you take on the roles of the Danville duo along with the intrepid Agent P and a host of other characters to escape a weird parallel universe full of gelatin monsters, vicious robots and gnasty gnomes. On the way, you solve puzzles and blast your way through levels full of bouncy balloons, puffy clouds and speeding trains. Some of it won't make sense, but the boys will have your back, like when Phineas questions why there are crushing pile drivers in the middle of a series of conveyor belts. "Perhaps it was a poorly written episode," observes Ferb.

Did I mention Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension has all the quirky humor of the TV series?

The game play is fairly simple and won't be much of a challenge for experienced gamers. Still, the gadgets are fun, from guns that shoot baseballs to "carbonators" that squirt soda at the bad guys. Damage repair is plentiful and easily found, and on the rare occasions your opponents get the best of you, "deaths" rarely result in setting you back too far. If there's one complaint I have about the game, it's that the "Ticket Redemption" area that pops up between levels quickly becomes too repetitive. You're limited to an arcade-like "claw" game (think the three-eyed aliens in Toy Story) and a Skee-Ball type game to win prizes and tickets that earn you gadget upgrades. The object may have been to make power-ups simple for younger players, but I can't see how it'll hold their interests for long.

The fun kicks in again, though, once you get past those mundane interruptions. Overall, Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension is clever and entertaining with plenty of imaginative and colorful levels that will especially appeal to fans of the TV show.

Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension is rated E-10+ for the console versions and E for Everyone for the DS version. This review refers to the Nintendo Wii version.