Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Motion Picture Academy Releases New Oscar Poster

It's an encouraging sign that Oscar is getting back to its roots. First, Billy Crystal will return as host of the Oscars for the ninth time next year, replacing Eddie Murphy, who departed in the wake of the Brett Ratner debacle. Second, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is paying tribute to its past with the release of the official poster for the 84th Academy Awards.

The poster shows a large Oscar statuette next to images from Oscar-winning films Forrest Gump, The Godfather, The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, Driving Miss Daisy, Giant, The Gladiator and Casablanca.

The most recent film of the bunch (Gladiator) is 11 years old. This pleases me. I like the Academy Awards steeped in history. In recent years, the show has tried to be hip and modern to attract a younger audience. That approach never works. Hip and modern results in painfully awkward hosts like James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Give me traditional, thank you very much. Billy Crystal is a funny and entertaining pro and he's been sorely missed. Recall he got the biggest round of applause as a presenter during last year's Oscar show.

Now, if the Academy would just make the presentation of the Thalberg Award and other honorary Oscars part of the telecast again, I'd be a happy movie fan.

It's great to celebrate the best films of the past year, but it means nothing without honoring the history too.

The 84th Academy Awards will be televised on ABC from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on February 26. Nomination ballots were mailed to the 5,783 voting members of the Academy this week.

You can download the new Oscar poster at

Monday, December 26, 2011

Catching Up with 'The Rocketeer'

With the hectic holidays (almost) behind us, I finally checked out Disney's newly-released 20th anniversary edition of The Rocketeer on Blu-ray.

What a letdown.

No, not the movie. The movie's fun. It's a sincere piece of action hero hokum, with straight arrow aviator Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) coming into possession of a top secret rocket pack that both the good guys and the bad guys are after. Set in the 1940s, the movie pays tribute to the delightfully absurd serials of that era, pitting good against mustache-twirling evil. There's a beautiful, spunky girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), a plucky sidekick who's handy with tools (Alan Arkin) and a charmingly slimy villain (perfectly cast Timothy Dalton--if Errol Flynn had been a Nazi, this would've been him). The film has a striking Art Deco design--our hero's crash helmet looks like it was torn right off the Chrysler Building--and director Joe Johnston keeps the action moving forward nicely, climaxing with a nifty chase aboard a very flammable zeppelin.

The problem with The Rocketeer is the Blu-ray disc itself. You'd think commemorating the movie's release 20 years ago would be worth some tribute, right? Maybe a "making of" documentary or a commentary by Johnston (who added to his action hero cred this year with the whiz-bang Captain America: The First Avenger). Nope, nada. With the exception of a paltry 1991 movie trailer, The Rocketeer has absolutely no bonus features, and that's a shame. It may not be Disney's most acclaimed film, but it's well crafted and does have a loyal following--filmmaker Kevin Smith admits to being a huge fan. This year, Smith moderated a Q&A with some of The Rocketeer's cast and crew at a 20th anniversary screening at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Some of that footage would've been a nice addition to the Blu-ray package. A commentary by Smith would've even been better.

That Disney pluses direct-to-video piffle like the Buddies franchise (see: Spooky Buddies or the upcoming Treasure Buddies) more than The Rocketeer is a disservice to one of its more under-appreciated films. I can recommend the film as the diverting action adventure it is, but its Blu-ray release deserved better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My 1967 Disneyland Nostalgia Trip

1967 Disneyland Hotel logo

Rummaging through some old Disneyland memorabilia, I came across this July/August 1967 issue of Disneyland Hotel Check-In. Needless to say, it conjured up all sorts of memories of summer vacations spent with my family at Disneyland.

Check-In was a free magazine given to hotel guests that spotlighted events and attractions in the Anaheim area.

This particular issue celebrated the grand opening of the Anaheim Convention Center. On the cover were Goofy, Mickey, Pluto and "Miss Disneyland" Marcia Miner, Disneyland's 1967 ambassador.

The Anaheim Convention Center opened on July 12 with a gala performance by the Orange County Symphony Orchestra under the direction of special guest conductor Arthur Fiedler. Three days later, '60s rock icon Jefferson Airplane shared the stage with Jim Morrison and The Doors. The inaugural meeting event at the Convention Center was the Home and Decorators Show.

In this aerial photo from the magazine, you can see the nearly completed Convention Center (bottom left) with its 9,100 seat dome-shaped arena. Top left is the Disneyland Hotel with its single Tower Building. Look carefully behind the tower and you can see the 9-hole executive golf course (sized down from 18 holes) that was once part of the resort. On the right is Disneyland and its massive parking lot.

Compare the photo to this modern day shot from Google Earth. The area's filled in a bit over the last 44 years, and not just with Disney California Adventure.

When the Anaheim Convention Center opened, it had 375,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. After three major renovations, today the exhibit hall space alone exceeds 800,000 square feet. 

Since 1967, the Disneyland Hotel has added two more towers, which have recently undergone major remodels themed to Adventureland, Frontierland and Fantasyland (the Fantasy Tower will be completed in 2012). 

The original front of the Disneyland Hotel was torn out in the late 1990s to make way for Downtown Disney. Here's a question for Disneyland Hotel veterans: Remember when you always took the Monorail or the tram to get from the hotel to Disneyland because walking was just way too far? Now it seems like nothing to stroll the length of Downtown Disney. I guess that's what happens when you have something other than pavement to look at. Of course, the absence of a hotel tram kind of limits your options.

The Future Isn't What it Used to Be

Disneyland Hotel Check-In also featured an article on the new Tomorrowland, the $23 million makeover of the land of the future that introduced the classic PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress and Adventure Thru Inner Space attractions.

Pluto hitches a ride on the PeopleMover
while the Rocket Jets soar overhead.
Check-In called Tomorrowland "a world on the move--entertaining space-age exploration and scientific adventures aboard a whole network of totally new transportation systems."

Disneyland's Carousel of Progress, transplanted from
the 1964 New York World's Fair.
This Tomorrowland of my childhood was bright, wondrous and constantly on the move. Today's Tomorrowland of Space Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, though entertaining, just doesn't have the same energetic feel. Maybe it's just childhood bias. As we get older, the good times of our youth always seem that much better.

Tomorrowland Today
Or maybe Tomorrowland 1967 really was better. My dad shot this 8mm home movie of Disneyland that year. The Tomorrowland footage, complete with the Skyway, PeopleMover, Submarine Lagoon and Autopia, starts at 4:03.

Yep, 1967 was a very good year.

As I dig through this old box of childhood memories, I've got a lot more Disneyland items to share--and some Walt Disney World stuff as well. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stan Lee Stars in New Spider-Man Storybook App

Your kids may not appreciate it, but you will.

Stan Lee narrates the new Disney/Marvel Spider-Man storybook app.

Seriously, that's like Walt Disney reading Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to you.

The app, available now for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, is based on The Amazing Spider-Man: An Origin Story, a children's book written by Rich Thomas and taken from the original comic book tale created by Lee and Steve Ditko.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Walt Disney's Possible Impossible

Walt Disney
"Well, it's kind of fun to do the impossible."

It's one of Walt Disney's most well-known quotes (and my personal favorite), but do you know where the quote came from?

In the Winter 1967-68 issue of Disney News, the article "Nature's Wonderland: The Early Western Wilderness Reborn" reveals the origin of the quote. The article talks about the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, Disneyland's journey into the natural splendor of the True-Life Adventures. Passengers boarded open-air mine cars that chugged through mysterious tunnels and under spectacular waterfalls into the western wilderness of Beaver Valley, Bear Country and the Living Desert. There were scores of animatronic critters to see on your travels and one predictably unpredictable geyser, Old Unfaithful.