Saturday, October 29, 2011

A First Look at Tim Burton's New 'Frankenweenie'

Tim Burton's Frankenweenie (1984)
Of his cult classic 1984 short film, Frankenweenie, director Tim Burton said, "I always wanted to do a feature length version of it that was more based on my original drawings."

He's getting his chance.

Currently in production, Frankenweenie will be released by Disney next fall as a stop motion animated film a` la Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Like the original short, it's being shot in black and white, an homage to the 1930s horror films that inspired it.

Frankenweenie redux, coming out next October.
Frankenweenie is your typical boy loves dog, boy loses dog, boy brings dog back to life in the laboratory story. It probably helps that the boy is named Victor Frankenstein. 

Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. Victor Frankenstein at work.
The movie stars the voice talents of Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau, all veterans of earlier Burton films. Charlie Tahan provides the voice of young Victor.

Director Tim Burton holds his Frankenweenie.
Of the stop motion animation, rendered in 3D, executive producer Don Hahn said, "It's an amazing technique and Tim is a brilliant director and visual artist. Couldn't hope for more."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Second Look at Disney Second Screen

Earlier this year, I wrote about Disney Second Screen, the digital add-on to select Disney home video releases. At the time, I enjoyed the technology, but wasn't really comfortable with the experience of watching a movie and its bonus features at the same time.

After viewing Second Screen's most recent entries, however, I think I'm getting the hang of it, It really is a fun experience if you want to totally immerse yourself in the back-stories and minutiae of Disney film making.

Second Screen is available to view online at or as a free iPad app. I prefer the iPad version for its portability and ease of use. If you have a wireless network, you can sync Second Screen with your Blu-ray disc through BD Live. There's also an audio sync feature, where your iPad "listens" to the movie audio, but I found that to be a bit wonky and not as easy to sync as BD Live.

Of course, you can always skip the movie and just flip through Second Screen manually, but you do lose the context the film provides.

The Lion King

Animation seems best suited to the Second Screen format and Disney takes full advantage of it with its 1994 classic. The Lion King Second Screen app is chock-full of concept art and pencil tests that illustrate how the film developed. So, while you're watching Simba and Mufasa experience the great circle of life, you can also see how the characters evolved from early concepts to final realizations on screen. There are interesting video clips of animators at work--both in-studio and on location with live animals--and the occasional "Fun Fact" telling behind the scenes stories about the film. Sadly lacking from Second Screen, however, are any photos or video of the voice cast, which makes the experience feel somewhat incomplete. Still, it's a great compilation chronicling The Lion King's artistic development.

iPad screen shots:

"Hakuna Matata" concept art.

A Jeremy Irons and Andreas Deja "Fun Fact."

"Morning Report" concept art.

Rafiki leaves his mark.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

On Facebook, my friend Becky recently observed that in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, "Almost all pirates are stupid."

I replied with, "Yeah, but British soldiers are even stupider."

Of course, in On Stranger Tides, the Spanish are smarter than the whole lot.

But, I digress.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is by far the weakest of the four Pirates films. Despite spirited performances by the cast, the film is done in by a boring story and some pretty lazy direction by Rob Marshall. With the exception of the exciting "Mermaids Attack!" scene (a terrific mix of live action and CG effects), the action sequences fall flat, making POTC 4 a long slog across the ocean and through the jungle to an anticlimactic encounter with the Fountain of Youth.

At least Second Screen offers some diversions. It has plenty of concept art, behind-the-scenes photos and trivia to keep you entertained.

More screen shots:

Pirate adventures in London.

(l. to r.) Johnny Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Rob Marshall.

My, what big teeth you have. Mermaid concept art.

Concept of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Geoffrey Rush: A Pirate's Life

Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa
In over eight years of making Pirates of the Caribbean films, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the wily and opportunistic pirate Hector Barbossa, has tracked the time in a unique fashion.

Through his children.

"My kids have visited a number of sets during the filming of the various Pirates of the Caribbean movies," says Rush. "In fact, I've got a series of photographs from 2002 onwards from their various set visits. There are photos where they are up to my hips, then my chest, then my ears and no they're even taller than me. Barbossa always stays the same, but the children have grown up a lot."

Barbossa hasn't stayed exactly the same over the years. Through four Pirates movies, he's been doomed by an Aztec curse, killed in a sword fight and resurrected with voodoo magic, He's sailed into a raging maelstrom, lost a leg to the infamous Blackbeard and even joined the British navy as a privateer. He's gone from being the outright villain of The Curse of the Black Pearl to becoming an antihero every bit as popular as Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.

Barbossa is such an indelible character it's sometimes easy to overlook Rush's other accomplishments. He's a classically trained Australian stage actor who's found great success in movies. He's been nominated for four Oscars (winning Best Actor for 1996's Shine) and won an Emmy for his 2004 portrayal of comedian Peter Sellers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.

His diverse resume is not lost on his fans and Rush has no problem identifying where their preferences lie. He says, "If I'm out and about in public and someone makes eye contact, I can tell what movie they recognize me from. I can see them approach me and I think, 'This is going to be a House on Haunted Hill or a Pirates of the Caribbean moment.' You can pick the different demographics."

The Pirates demographic has served him well. While not always popular with critics, the four films combined have raked in over $3.7 billion in worldwide box office. Quite a feat, considering pirate films in general were long considered dead in Hollywood. "The first (Pirates) film took everyone by surprise because there had been a 50-year period where nobody had been able to crack the pirate genre," says Rush. "People had tried to reboot it in many different forms, but it just didn't capture popular imagination."

Johnny Depp (l.) and Geoffrey Rush in POTC 4
That all changed when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became an instant surprise hit in 2003. Not bad for a pirate movie based on a Disney theme park ride. Says Rush, "At its heart, I think the great diversity of characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been very appealing to audiences, especially with Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. Johnny created an entirely new and different pirate, and everybody fell in love with the character."

Rush's Barbossa owes more to the style of Robert Newton's Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island, complete with his throaty vocal delivery and the occasional ARRRRR thrown in. Every day is Talk Like a Pirate Day when you play Barbossa. There's more to getting into the character than putting on a long coat and strapping on a peg leg, though. It takes a couple of hours in makeup for Rush to transform into Barbossa. He says, "You have to rough up the skin, stick on the beard, put on the wig--and then you put on his clothes once you're ready. You slowly build up to Barbossa, which is great for getting into character. However, I always feel that the hat completes everything. Once the hat goes on, I enter into the spirit of it and I truly become Barbossa."

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides came out on home video this week. There's a pretty good chance Rush is already checking out the bonus features on it. "I love the bonus material you find on DVDs," he says. "In a funny way, the bloopers and the behind-the-scenes coverage is like a great personal home movie for me. Some actors like to photograph their experiences on a movie set. They take pictures of the friends and the mates they work with, but I never get around to it. However, I recently looked at the DVD bonus features for a movie called Elizabeth and it felt like I was watching a home movie of all of my friends. The DVD teams manage to record everything much better than I could. It's very professionally done, not like a hand-held camera."

I bet Rush got some great shots of his kids that way.

Monday, October 17, 2011

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Concept Art

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is available on home video beginning tomorrow and we have some very cool concept art from the latest chapter in the life of Captain Jack Sparrow. Pirates and a zombies and mermaids, oh my!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Blu-Ray Giveaway

Jack's back on October 18, 2011 when Disney releases Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to home video.

The Mouse Castle is giving away a 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack of the 4th installment of the POTC saga to one of our loyal readers. The Combo Pack includes both a Blu-ray 2D and DVD version of the film. To enter, all you have to do is:

1. Visit The Mouse Castle Facebook page at and become a fan (click the "Like" button, if you haven't already).

2. Find the event "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES Blu-ray Giveaway."

3. Confirm that you will be attending this event.

4. Wait for us to announce the winner, savvy?

Get your entry in no later than October 26, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. Pacific time. You must be a resident of the United States to enter. Only one entry per person, please.

Remember, you must "Like" The Mouse Castle on Facebook and RSVP for the giveaway event by clicking "I'm Attending" (mobile Facebook users may see a button labeled "Confirmed" or similar).

Sometime after the entry deadline, we will draw one winner at random. The winner's name will be posted on The Mouse Castle Facebook page.

Good Luck ye scurvy dogs!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Making of 'The Lion King'

On the screen, a blazing yellow sun rose against a crimson sky, accompanied by a booming chant performed by South African singer/composer Lebo M.

"Nants' ingoyama bakithi baba!"

This was the moment it all came together, a moment when the creative team of The Lion King knew they had something special.

It was "The Circle of Life."

"The Circle of Life"
"When we finished the sequence and Hans Zimmer scored the music," says producer Don Hahn. "We watched it and were all amazed--even though it was our movie. Suddenly this little film about a lion cub became a much bigger epic."

Reaching that point of revelation was not an easy task. Disney's 32nd animated feature had been beset with obstacles, from story issues to the departure of one of its original directors. Before its release in June 1994, it even had to survive an earthquake, and all while being deemed the "B" project at the Walt Disney Studios. "Lion King was originally called King of the Jungle and was not well regarded around the studio," says co-director Rob Minkoff. "So when (studio head) Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that the studio would be split in two to make two films simultaneously, many of the top animators wanted to work on Pocahontas instead of The Lion King. Jeffrey had deemed Pocahontas the 'home run' and Lion King the 'risk.'"

Originally, George Scribner, who previously directed Oliver & Company, was assigned to co-direct The Lion King with Roger Allers. Early on in the production, they joined a team of artists that traveled to Africa to research the film. Hahn was not on the team--he was completing production on Beauty and the Beast at the time--but he recalls the impact Africa had on his studio mates. "(They) were blown away by the scope and scale of Africa. They came back with a load of images and a feeling for the land and color of the land that made it into the movie in many ways. There is an epic feeling to the landscape in Africa, that made the directors want to use it almost like another character in the film."

The Lion King directors Roger Allers (l.) and Rob Minkoff
The film makers came back home visually inspired and began in earnest to develop the story. "We wanted to do an animal picture based in a more natural setting," says Allers. "A story that dealt with the issue of taking on the responsibility of adulthood." What he and Scribner couldn't settle on, however, was what direction to approach it from. Scribner pressed for a documentary-like "Bambi in Africa" feel while Allers preferred a lighter and more accessible touch. Finding a middle ground only compromised both men's visions of the film. Tensions increased when Elton John was brought in to help write the songs, a move Scribner highly objected to. It wouldn't be long before Scribner was removed from the film and replaced by Minkoff, with the story development beginning anew.

Around that time, Hahn was assigned to produce The Lion King. As he recalls, "We sat in my office for two days with an amazing, small and mighty team of story artists that included Chris Sanders, Brenda Chapman and Beauty directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and over those two days (we) wrote the complete outline for the film.There had been some amazing writers on the story, but those two days were an amazing time when the film came together in a big way."

The story was developing into a coming of age tale with highly dramatic overtones rooted in classic literature. Minkoff explains, "When we first pitched the revised outline of the movie to Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider and Tom Schumacher, someone in the room announced that Hamlet was similar in its themes and relationships. Everyone responded favorably to the idea that we were doing something Shakespearean and so we continued to look for ways to model our film on that all time classic."

"We looked at a lot of coming of age stories," adds Hahn. "Especially bible stories like Moses or Joseph where a character is born into royalty and then is exiled and has to return to claim their kingdom. Those are ancient stories, stories of underdogs that we as an audience love to see when we go to the theater."

The Lion King wouldn't fly, however, being anchored solely to Biblical and Shakespearean themes, so a concerted effort was made to introduce lighter moments. "We found ourselves constantly re-balancing the film to make sure there were enough comic elements to lighten the mood after the tragedy of Mufasa's death," says Minkoff. "Timon and Pumbaa really came along at the right time to give the film a lift and make it a more satisfying whole."

"Hakuna Matata"
That lift was epitomized in the song "Hakuna Matata," where the sly meerkat and goodhearted warthog introduce the exiled Simba to their no-worries lifestyle. It, along with "The Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?," became one of The Lion King's signature tunes, the product of a hugely successful--if unlikely--teaming of songwriter Elton John, lyricist Tim Rice (who just completed writing songs with Alan Menken for Disney's Aladdin) and composer Hans Zimmer. "Elton and Tim's songs help(ed) tell the story with humor and heart," says Allers, "while Hans' brilliant score and arrangements--along with Lebo M's choral work--gave it its scale, drama, and placed it in Africa."

"It was Tim who suggested Elton for the job," adds Minkoff. "Me, Don and Roger wanted Hans based on his work in The Power of One, whose score also featured Lebo M. Their collaboration on the score and musical elements really brought the story to life and gave it its enduring power."

So confident were they of the music's strength, the film makers decided to go out on a limb once the opening sequence was completed. As Hahn recalls, "We took a risk and sent 'Circle of Life' out to theaters as a trailer for the film six months before the film came out and it was a huge hit. Back at the studio we were still struggling with the story but at least we knew we had a great opening and if we could elevate the rest of the film to that level, we'd have something."

In addition to the powerful music and now promising story, The Lion King boasted  an impressive voice cast that included Matthew Broderick as the adult Simba, Jeremy Irons ("a gentleman and a brilliant actor," says Allers) as Simba's evil uncle Scar and Robert Guillaume ("his laugh was so amazing," recalls Minkoff) as the slightly crazed shaman Rafiki. Most memorable, though, was James Earl Jones as the fierce but wise Mufasa (a role that, surprisingly enough, Sean Connery was briefly considered for).

James Earl Jones
"James Earl Jones has one of the most incredible voices in the history of film," explains Minkoff. "Getting to work with him, especially being such a big fan of Star Wars, was an amazing experience. Watching him warming up his voice before a session was remarkable." Allers makes the same observation. "The very first time we had James in to record, before doing his first lines he proceeded to clear his throat. The strength and resonance of his 'harrrunfs' practically blew us off our chairs in the recording booth! That man IS a lion!"

Shortly after the "Circle of Life" trailer began appearing in theaters, The Lion King experienced its biggest setback yet, one that threatened to impact its June 1994 release date. Early on the morning of January 17, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck outside Los Angeles. The Northridge quake would devastate the area, killing dozens and causing approximately $20 billion in damage. As Hahn recalls, "The studio had to be shut down. For a few weeks we were driving drawings to animator's homes around Southern California and making the film in garages and on kitchen tables. The crew was amazing. They were dealing with the stress of a major earthquake while finishing the film."

Rising to the challenge, the production team managed to complete the film on time for its world premiere on June 15 and its U.S. wide release on June 24. Despite being Disney's "B" film, it still arrived with high expectations. "We were fourth in a succession of modern Disney animated classics," says Minkoff. "First it was Little Mermaid, then Beauty and The Beast and finally Aladdin. They were all tough acts to follow. We only hoped we would be compared favorably and not disappoint the Disney fans that had been growing with each new hit."

The Lion King did not disappoint.

Received with nearly universal acclaim by audiences and critics alike, it made over $300 million in its initial domestic release. It would go on to win two Academy Awards, one for Hans Zimmer's score and the other for the John/Rice tune "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

The Lion King producer Don Hahn and friends
And, 17 years later, it still resonated with audiences, raking in an additional $85 million in the U.S. during its 3D re-release this fall. But, was 3D the reason people flocked back to theaters?  Or, perhaps they were just nostalgic for hand-drawn animation. Hahn--who gives high praise to The Lion King's 3D conversion--doesn't quite think so. "Story, story, story!" he exclaims. "Nobody goes to the theater just to see a technique. The Lion King is a great story and that's why it's come back with such a roar."

Allers shares in that sentiment. "It's the balance of humor and drama and the resonance of its themes. The issues of life and death, and loss. The responsibilities of leadership and finding one's place in life."

The Lion King is now available on home video in Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D.

'Maleficent Executive Produce Don Hahn in the MCL
'The Lion King' Returns to TV With 'The Lion Guard'

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

As the somber news of the death of Apple visionary Steve Jobs echoes through every corner of the Internet, where talk of Macs and iPods and iPhones and iPads abound, Disney fans mourn the passing of the man without whom Pixar would never have existed.

In 1986, it was Jobs who purchased Lucasfilm's computer graphics division for $10 million to form Pixar. Initially a struggling computer hardware company, Pixar eventually found its niche in digital animation, ultimately partnering with Disney to produce Toy Story, A Bugs Life and a host of immensely successful computer animated films.

When Disney bought Pixar in 2006, Jobs became Disney's largest shareholder and joined its board of directors, a position he held until his death today at age 56.

Disney and Pixar both issued statements honoring the memory of this great creative innovator.
Steve Jobs was a great friend as well as a trusted advisor. His legacy will extend far beyond the products he created or the businesses he built. It will be the millions of people he inspired, the lives he changed, and the culture he defined. 
Steve was such an 'original,' with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era. Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started. 
With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend. 
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Laurene and his children during this difficult time. 
Robert Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company

Steve Jobs was an extraordinary visionary, our very dear friend and the guiding light of the Pixar family. He saw the potential of what Pixar could be before the rest of us, and beyond what anyone ever imagined. Steve took a chance on us and believed in our crazy dream of making computer animated films; the one thing he always said was to simply 'make it great.' He is why Pixar turned out the way we did and his strength, integrity and love of life has made us all better people. He will forever be a part of Pixar's DNA. Our hearts go out to his wife Laurene and their children during this incredibly difficult time.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer & Ed Catmull, President, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

The Mouse Castle extends its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Steve Jobs.

Disney Classics in 3D: Stop the Madness!

Beauty and the Beast
Well, $80 million certainly got Disney's attention, didn't it?

Following The Lion King's astounding movie box office returns during its just-concluded run in 3D, Disney announced Tuesday it would give the 3D treatment to four other films and release them in limited theatrical engagements during 2012 and 2013.

The blatant cash grab continues.

Since it already completed a two-week run in 3D at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood last month, Beauty and the Beast will be the first one of the four to hit theaters on January 13, 2012. Pixar's Finding Nemo will follow on September 14. In 2013, Monsters Inc. will take its turn on January 18, five months before its new prequel, Monsters University, debuts. The Little Mermaid will finish up the series on September 13.

Finding Nemo
If Disney sticks to past practice, the good news is we'll have beautiful new Blu-ray releases of Nemo and Mermaid following their theatrical runs (Beast and Monsters Inc are already available on Blu-ray, although I'm sure we'll see them reissued in a Combo Pack that includes a 3D disc). The bad news is Disney will continue to over-saturate the already bloated--and mostly unnecessary--3D movie market. And it'll do it at the expense of films that are perfectly fine as is.

When I was growing up, in the era before home video, Disney would regularly re-release its classic animated films in theaters every seven years or so. This is how I was introduced to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia and many other great Disney films. If Disney were to take this route with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, I would cheer. These are magical movies that I would gladly see again on the big screen, but in their original 2D form, not in a gimmicky 3D retrofit.

The Little Mermaid
Yes, I know, The Lion King re-release was also shown in 2D and these upcoming releases likely will be as well. Sadly, that's not the point. The fact that Disney feels compelled to trick out its classic film library in 3D to somehow stay relevant to modern audiences is insulting to both moviegoers and to the artists and animators who originally made these films. Your work is no longer good enough. We're going to make it "better"--and charge people premium prices to see it.

I passed on The Lion King during its latest theatrical run. I plan on doing the same for these next four films. Call it my (not-so) silent protest against tampering with movies that were never intended to be seen in 3D to begin with.

Enough already.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Walt Disney World 1977: A Nostalgic Look Back

1977 Walt Disney World guide
“I love the nostalgic myself. I hope we never lose some of the things of the past.” – Walt Disney

With Walt Disney World celebrating its 40th birthday yesterday, I decided to rummage through some old Disney photos. I came across these pics from June 1977 when I took my first trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I had just turned 15 and received a Kodak Instamatic camera for my birthday (forget Instagram all you iPhone users, I had the real thing). For serious photographers, it was a toy camera, but to me it was the most awesome gadget ever. The camera took 126 film cartridges and required an 8-bulb Flip Flash if you were shooting at night or indoors (if you don't know what I'm talking about, Google is your friend). It even had alphabet stickers so I could put my initials on the back. How cool was that?

I'm sure I still have that old Instamatic stored away in a box somewhere. I loved that thing and used it for many years. As you'll see below, it took some fairly decent pictures.

I made the trip to Walt Disney World with my mom and my sister. My dad had died suddenly in 1976 and this would be the last family vacation the three of us would take before my sister went away to college. By the end of the summer, my mom and I would move to Orlando, where I graduated from high school in 1980.

During those three years in Florida, mom and I made a lot of trips to Walt Disney World. This first one will always be my favorite.

Once upon a time, there was only one theme park inside Walt Disney World.
Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

One of the few shots of Cinderella Castle I took during the trip. Film
cost money (remember film? HA!) and exposures were limited.
We're spoiled by digital cameras these days--and, boy, do I appreciate it.

A rare picture of my mom (and me) on Cinderella's Golden Carrousel.
To say she hated to have her picture taken was a huge understatement.
Try loathed, despised. I did not inherit that trait from her.

Gone, but not forgotten:  the Nautilus cruises 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Fantasyland's great E-ticket ride.

My buddy Tigger and I in front of the entrance to Adventureland.

Once upon a time, the entrance to Tomorrowland was an inviting blue and
white with cascading water.

"Presented by America's Investor-Owned Electric Companies": the WEDway
PeopleMover...with the StarJets circling above.

"Row five, green light to go!" Long before it was the Tomorrowland Speedway, it
was the Grand Prix Raceway.

A view of the Grand Prix Raceway from the Walt Disney World Railroad
with the Skyway in the background (sigh).

From the Monorail, a slightly blurry Space Mountain.

The Contemporary Resort Hotel, still my favorite hotel at Walt Disney World.
The Monorail goes right through the middle of it, hello!

The Polynesian Village Resort Hotel. On the left, you can see the Oahu
Longhouse under construction. It was later renamed "Tokelau."

My sister and I about to take a cruise on the Seven Seas Lagoon in a mini speedboat.

Pioneer Hall, perpetual home to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.

Forget Typhoon Lagoon. Forget Blizzard Beach. The best water park ever at
Walt Disney World was River Country on the shores of Bay Lake.

Slippery Slide Falls at River Country. That's me on the left about to take the plunge.

Before branding and commercialism took over, the Downtown Disney
Marketplace was simply known as the Village at Lake Buena Vista,
full of quaint shops and restaurants. Fulton's Crab House used to be
the uber-classy Empress Lilly (named for Walt Disney's wife Lillian),
home of three restaurants: the Steerman's Quarters, the Fisherman's Deck
and the Empress Room. The Baton Rouge Lounge served up some
mighty fine cocktails too.

Happy 40th Birthday Walt Disney World!