Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year End Odds and Ends

Here are a few random things on my mind as we draw a close to 2013:

I'm really looking forward to the newly announced exhibition that will open at the Walt Disney Family Museum on March 13, MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair. It will feature nearly 200 works from the famed artist, designer and colorist who contributed her unique artistic sense to Disney films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Blair's vivid style can also be seen in It's a Small World and the epic Grand Canyon Concourse mural inside Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort.

MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair will spotlight not only Blair's work at Disney, but also her student art at the Chouinard Art Institute and her illustrations for Golden Books among many other items. The exhibition will be guest curated by Academy Award-winning animator, author and historian John Canemaker.

For more about the exhibition, visit


Hi. My name is Tim and I love Disney Infinity. Yes, these are all mine.


In the generous spirit of the holiday season, I decided to give The Lone Ranger, now available on Blu-ray, another shot. I panned it in July, but I wanted to see if time and the friendly confines of my living room would soften my attitude towards it.

Nope. It's still an overblown, erratic mess that veers wildly from broad humor to violence. It's patronizing to Native Americans, Tonto (Johnny Depp) has mental issues, and our iconic title character (Armie Hammer) is a buffoon.

Hi yo, way. God, I miss Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.


I'm really tickled with the new Oscars trailer. Host Ellen DeGeneres leads a pack of dancers through the Warner Bros. backlot to the tune of Fitz and The Tantrums’ The Walker.

Ellen will be back for her second go-round at the Oscars on March 2nd. I'll be back on the red carpet (a few days before the ceremony) to host my annual preview show in The Mouse Castle Lounge.


Disney Animated was rightfully named Best iPad App of 2013 by Apple. It's an extraordinary interactive compilation of 90 years of Disney animation. It's part animation tutorial and part history lesson with a generous assortment of finished clips, pencil sketches and concept art. You can step frame by frame through select scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Frozen, manipulate your own computer animation, and delve into the complex creative process that produces animated feature films. Currently priced at $9.99, Disney Animated is worth every penny if you have any kind of appreciation for Disney's animation legacy.


"I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now." -- Edna Mode

I'm not a fan of compiling year-end lists and I don't make New Year's resolutions. I do, however, like looking forward to the next project, the next movie review or the next interview. 2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for The Mouse Castle and The Mouse Castle Lounge. Later this week, I'll be chatting once again with historian Didier Ghez. He was a guest in the Lounge in July to talk about the latest edition of Walt's People. When we meet again, he'll be talking about Disney's Grand Tour, Didier's intricately researched book about Walt's 1935 trip to Europe, a trip which would have profound impact on the studio for decades to follow. Also on the docket is Jim Korkis, an accomplished historian and author with a thing to two to say about Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Look for Jim's interview sometime in January.

I have a few other exciting projects I'm working on that I'm not ready to talk about yet, but give me time. Since I started blogging on my own nearly five years ago and later caught the podcasting bug, I've been on a remarkable journey full of fascinating people and wonderful experiences and it's been my pleasure to share them with you here. Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'Saving Mr. Banks' and Saving Walt Disney's Birthplace in the MCL

Concept image of the fully-restored
Walt Disney birthplace home.
Merry Christmas from The Mouse Castle Lounge!

It's not just the season of giving this year, but the season of saving, as in Saving Mr. Banks and saving Walt Disney's birthplace. In the MCL today, I chat with Brent Young and Dina Benadon, the husband and wife team who head up Super 78 Studios, a company that designs and develops media for theme park attractions. They also happen to be the owners of the house in Chicago where Walt Disney was born. Brent and Dina have embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the two-story home on the southwest corner of Tripp Avenue and Palmer Street to its original state. Walt's father Elias built the home in 1893 and Walt was born on the second floor in 1901.

To help pay for the restoration, Brent and Dina have launched a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to raise $500,000. There are less than two weeks left to make a donation to the campaign, so please consider giving to this worthwhile cause.

Also in the Lounge today, we take a look at Saving Mr. Banks, the charming (and yes, very fictionalized) account of the making of Mary Poppins. I'll give a short version of my review (you can read the long version here), plus we'll hear from the stars of the film, Tom Hanks (Walt Disney) and Emma Thompson (P.L. Travers).

All this--plus breakfast booze in your holiday coffee--in today's edition of The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Download the episode:

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher. Tune into us on Swell Radio.

Related: A Great Day to Be a Walt Disney Fan
Reviewing 'Mr. Banks'
'Saving Mr. Banks,' 'Mary Poppins' and 'Thor' in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reviewing 'Mr. Banks'

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) implores
P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let him film Mary Poppins.
"Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking." -- Mary Poppins

Call Saving Mr. Banks muddled, then. Deliberately and unapologetically so. Yes, this makes for a less than perfect movie, but Banks approaches its subject matter with such heart-on-its-sleeve earnestness, only the most hardened cynics will fail to get caught up in its spell.

Purporting to tell the tale of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) cajoled the prickly author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), into signing over the film rights of her popular children's book to him, Saving Mr. Banks jettisons much of what really happened--Walt never escorted Mrs. Travers through Disneyland; in fact, he left town during her visit--in favor of depicting a highly fictionalized battle of wills between two creative forces of nature. You can decide for yourself if this fast and loose handling of the facts is a deal-breaker or not. I chose to not let it be.

Mrs. Travers meets The Boys, (l. to r.) B.J. Novak,
Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and Emma Thompson.
Mrs. Travers comes to Walt's Burbank studio hell-bent on protecting her story from becoming Disneyfied. She's against it being a musical, against it having animation, against it starring Dick Van Dyke (apparently she was okay with Julie Andrews). She confronts not only Walt on her crusade but also screenwriter Don DeGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman). The source of her stubborn determination is presented through a series of childhood flashbacks in a remote, hardscrabble town in Australia where we meet her gregarious, alcoholic father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell, quite good) and her meek, overwhelmed mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson). P.L., nicknamed Ginty (Annie Buckley) as a child, adores her father, but is repeatedly let down by his many shortcomings, most notably his weakness for strong drink. It's only with the arrival of Margaret's Poppins-like sister Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) that the Goff family finds any sense of stability.

Young Ginty (Annie Buckley) and her father,
Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).
All this backstory exists to soften the audience's attitude towards Mrs. Travers--or just "Mrs." as her good-natured L.A. limo driver (Paul Giamatti, effortlessly affable) refers to her. It's also there to ultimately provide Walt with the key to unlock Mrs. Travers' cold heart and earn her trust. This is all Pop Psychology 101 stuff with pat solutions to what otherwise would be complex problems in the real world. We never doubt for a moment that director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith are going for a happy ending here. It's also no spoiler to reveal that Mrs. Travers ultimately capitulates and Mary Poppins gets made into a movie. Perhaps you've seen it.

The Happiest Place on Earth? Walt (Tom Hanks) escorts
Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) to Disneyland.
And yet, for all it's feel-good predictability, Saving Mr. Banks never comes off forced. It finds its soft, sentimental center honestly through the strength of its fine cast. Emma Thompson does a wonderful job at striking just the right balance between P.L. Travers' sharp-tongued defiance and her humanity. Mrs. Travers doesn't resist the creative overtures of Walt and his crew just to be difficult, but rather in steadfast defense of the very real characters that inhabit her books. She is the immovable object to Walt's irresistible force. As Walt, Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks. And although he never disappears entirely into the role, he exudes a wily charm as the studio mogul who's used to getting his way and will play every card in his hand to do so.

There are those who will carp about Saving Mr. Banks lack of historical accuracy. To them I say it's a movie, not a documentary. Meet it on its own terms and you will find magic there, a celebration of the creative process and the determined people who intend to see their stories told their way.

Related: 'Saving Mr. Banks,' 'Mary Poppins' and 'Thor' in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'
'Saving Mr. Banks' and Saving Walt Disney's Birthplace in the MCL

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sam Gennawey's 'Disneyland Story' in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Sam Gennawey
Sam Gennawey is an urban planner by trade who has a serious obsession with Disney. In 2011, he wrote his first book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City, fusing both his professional and personal passions to explore how Walt Disney dared to dream and develop living, breathing 3-dimensional spaces like the Disney Burbank studios, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Sam's book ultimately focused on Walt's unrealized vision for EPCOT, not the quasi-World's Fair it is today, but an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that would live on the cutting edge of technology and city design. 

Sam has just published a second book, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream, and it's not just a history, but a biography of the Happiest Place on Earth that chronologically traces the park's almost 60-year existence. Sam takes us from Walt's early ideas about the park, to its construction, chaotic opening, and the many attraction hits and misses that have defined it over the decades. We follow the park's evolution during and after Walt's life, recalling major successes like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion as well as ambitious projects that never made it off the drawing board as planned like Edison Square and Discovery Bay. It's a fascinating read that's sure to stir up plenty of nostalgia for even the most casual Disneyland fan.

Sam is my guest today in The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher. Tune into us on Swell Radio.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Great Day to Be a Walt Disney Fan

Yesterday marked Walt Disney's 112th birthday and it was an excellent day to celebrate being part of this wonderful Disney fan community. Two exciting projects were launched and The Mouse Castle is happy to throw its support behind both of them.

First, Dina Benadon and Brent Young run Super 78 Studios, a design and development firm for theme park attractions. They recently purchased Walt Disney's birthplace home in Chicago and are raising money on Kickstarter to help fund the renovation and restoration. There are plans to ultimately turn the historic residence into a museum.

For more information about this extremely worthwhile project, visit

Another Disney podcast? Really? Well, considering it's being produced by the Walt Disney Family Museum, I call that a win. Give a listen to their first episode featuring longtime Disney producer Don Hahn and the last interview with the museum's founder, Diane Disney Miller.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'The Disneyland Story': A Detailed and Fascinating Biography of The Happiest Place on Earth

I'm happy to welcome my friend, Susie Prendergast, as a guest columnist to The Mouse Castle. She's smart, clever and most importantly a longtime Disney fan. Plus, by my estimation, she's read every single book ever written, making her eminently qualified to review Sam Gennawey's latest book about Disneyland. Enjoy!

I recently finished one of the latest books about Disneyland, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream by Sam Gennawey. Once I started reading, I found myself caught in that weird position of wanting to read it faster to get to the next chunk of information, while at the same time wanting to read it slower to make it last longer. Then, as I attempted to write this article, I found that it is really hard to review the book without trying to connect everything to myself. That’s the magic of Disneyland, I think; it’s such a personal experience for people that it is difficult to separate the emotional aspect from the historical timeline. As I read the book, I kept inserting myself into the story line because “I was there!” or “I know that guy!”

Sam Gennawey manages this separation of park and self in his well-researched book, and hopefully I’ll be able to do the same here. From the moment I saw the vintage photos on the cover, I was intrigued to start reading, and as he states in the introduction, this book is the biography of a place--not the people, not the movies, just Disneyland itself. If you are a Disney fan, you have surely heard some of these origin stories through the years, but Gennawey gives us a chronological map to follow from the project’s inception until we are brought up to date at the end of 2012, through the billion dollar do-over of the California Adventure park.

The book is laid out in chunks of time, for example Chapter 4 spans 1956-1958, and Chapter 9 covers 1996-present. As I read, I imagined the park being laid down in layers, like those transparent overlay pages you’d find in an encyclopedia, where attractions would be added and removed and the boundaries of the park were constantly shifting. In this way, we are taken through the pipeline of development as ideas arise and are developed or set aside, some to be revived and some to be tossed out completely. I found myself getting very involved in the planning stages of the Pirates of the Caribbean, only to find that particular story was abruptly cut off because the final attraction did not fit into that particular chapter’s time frame. Not to worry though, because every thread is woven through the larger narrative, and the author deftly picks them back up again at the appropriate place.

The great thing about this book is the mix of technical details about things like specs on the locomotive engines, Autopia cars, and Monorail designs, blended with anecdotal stories and quotes from many different sources, so there is something for everyone here. The book is peppered with “tips” and trivia along the way as well. One of my favorite sections was about the complete Fantasyland revival in the early 1980s,probably because I can vividly remember the old Fantasyland and how overwhelming it was to walk into the new version when it opened in 1983. Tony Baxter talks about standing in the middle of all the destruction after beginning the massive overhaul and looking around thinking, “Oh my God, what have we done?” It was one thing to just design a new Fantasyland, but to alter so much of the original park must have been a daunting task!

Just as interesting as the concepts that did make their way into the park were the many ideas that did not come to fruition, such as the Port Disney and WESTCOT projects, and the development of the second-gate into what we do have today.

Gennawey uses his background as a city planner to show how environmental impact reports, city bond measures, and planning commission concerns all affected the development of the Disneyland Resort, and makes it all interesting to the average reader. Not even Disney gets their way all the time.

This was a great entry-level read into the history of Disneyland and it makes for a terrific jumping-off point for people who want to know more about particular attractions, Imagineering, or Walt Disney himself. This book has so many citations and such a well-rounded bibliography that you could spend a few years getting caught up in doing more personal research to pursue your further questions. Reading this made me nostalgic for the past and the things that have changed over time in the park, but I also found it reassuring to see the evolution of the park over the long-term. (People have been resistant to change at Disneyland long before the Internet became a thing, believe it or not.) As the saying goes, Disneyland will never be finished, and sometimes you have to let things go to move forward, yet the heart of the park stays the same. The Disneyland Story made me optimistic and I can’t wait to see what the future will hold.
--Susie Prendergast

'Frozen' is Hard to Warm Up To

As I watched Frozen, I couldn't help but imagine a checklist of story elements crossed off line by line by the filmmakers as they worked their way through the production.

  • Empowered Disney princess--no, make that two--check.
  • Misunderstood main character yearning for acceptance, check.
  • Early tragedy that sets the first act in motion, check.
  • Good-hearted comic relief sidekick, check.
  • Evil plot twist that sets the third act in motion, check.
  • Love conquers all resolution, check.

(l. to r.) Anna, Olaf and Kristoff 
Fairy tales (and the films they inspire) by their very nature are formulaic. They follow a tried and true template of need, conflict, peril, rescue and redemption. But, the best ones (think of Disney's The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) don't draw attention to the formula. They have a rhythm and flow to their stories that magically transport you to other worlds and introduce you to richly developed, relatable and complex characters.

Frozen tries to reach that level. It really does. But, it just doesn't pull it off.

The story takes place in the mythical Nordic kingdom of Arendelle, an idyllic community reigned over by a benevolent king and queen with two young daughters. The eldest, Elsa (Idina Menzel), has magical powers that enable her to create snow and ice out of thin air. The youngest, Anna (Kristen Bell), is sweet, idealistic and she adores her older sister. Elsa keeps Anna entertained with her wintry talents, but when she starts to lose control of her powers and Anna is injured as a result, the king and queen resolve to close the castle gates to keep Elsa hidden away (Anna gets locked up too--one of several plot points in Frozen that makes no sense).

As the two princesses grow up, Elsa isolates herself from Anna, fearing her unwieldy powers will further harm her younger sister. Years pass until Elsa comes of age and is due to be coronated at a gala event in her honor. The castle gates will be opened and Elsa will be tested to keep her powers in check. Anna, on the other hand, will jump at the opportunity to live the life she's always dreamed of outside the castle walls and to possibly meet the man of her dreams--who conveniently presents himself as the handsome and courtly Hans (Santino Fontana).

Hans and Anna
All does not go as planned, of course. Elsa loses her cool, literally, at the coronation and unleashes an icy barrage in the crowded ballroom. Labeled a freak and a monster, she flees Arendelle, leaving it covered by her snowy wake, a permanent winter that cannot be undone. Anna gives chase, determined to save her sister and bring summer back to the kingdom.

On her quest, Anna finds assistance from Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a ruggedly charming mountain man with a mangy pet reindeer named Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a walking, talking snowman created by Elsa. Olaf is by far the most entertaining and interesting character in Frozen. He's a naive innocent who likes warm hugs and loves the concept of summer, even if the reality of it means his demise. Olaf could've easily become an annoying character, but directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the screenplay) are smart to give him just enough screen time to not wear out his welcome. Olaf gets the best lines in the movie and provides Frozen with some very welcome comic relief.

Aside from the sweet snowman, though, there's not a lot in Frozen that feels fresh and fun. The film is beautifully animated, it moves along briskly and there are certainly entertaining moments, but so much of the story is by rote. This is Fairy Tale 101 stuff without a lot of innovation or originality. Frozen was originally supposed to be released in 2014, but Disney moved up the opening date. They should've waited. A few extra months of story development would've only helped the movie.

Also a letdown are the songs. I had high hopes for the husband and wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, especially considering the way Mr. Lopez tweaked musical theater conventions with his work in the award-winning Broadway hits Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. The songs in Frozen are a mishmash of big theatrical and bubblegum pop tunes that never really gel. Even the film's intended showstopper Let it Go seems to exist only because Idina Menzel (known for her larger than life Broadway performances in Rent and Wicked) needed a big Idina Menzel song to perform. Let it Go doesn't fit in the flow of the narrative so much as it's just dropped in because it's time for Elsa's big number.

As I noted in The Mouse Castle Lounge, I was skeptical about Frozen for a number of reasons. But, since I don't like to make up my mind about a movie before I see it, I kept an open mind. I came away, though, feeling cold. Given the talent involved, Frozen needs to be a much better and far more original movie than it is.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MCL: The Cast of 'Frozen' and Remembering Diane Disney Miller

Anna, Olaf and Kristoff from Frozen
Happy Thanksgiving from The Mouse Castle Lounge!

Frozen opens today and in this week's show we hear from the movie's directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee as well as the voice cast including Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa) and Josh Gad (Olaf).

This is the 53rd feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios and the latest in a long line of stories about fairy tale princesses (albeit independent, empowered ones). You'd never know this from the movie trailers, though, which have gone out of the way to present Frozen as a comedy action adventure centered around a talking snowman with interchangeable parts. It's misleading and indicative of Disney's own lack of faith in its princess legacy. Does anyone (outside of hardcore Disney fans) have any idea that Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen? Anyone?

Diane Disney Miller
Disney took a similar approach in promoting 2010's Tangled. Dashing rogue Flynn Ryder, not Rapunzel, was the character getting all the attention in Tangled's first promos. Apparently, trying not to alienate male moviegoers who wouldn't be caught dead at a "princess" movie takes precedent over advertising a film strictly on its own merits. It's this bait and switch marketing approach that makes me skeptical about Frozen despite the good reviews I've seen for it. I'll be catching it this weekend. I'll let you know what I think.

Also in the Lounge today, I pay tribute to the late Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter and co-founder of the sublime Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Diane passed away last week at the age of 79 and her death hit Disney fans everywhere very hard. She was a respected philanthropist, patron of the arts and a lifetime champion of her dad's legacy. She will be greatly missed.

It's all in today's episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Related: 'Frozen' is Hard to Warm Up To

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Disney Legend Marty Sklar in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Dream It! Do It!
Marty Sklar made a lot of memories during his 50-plus years with the Walt Disney Company, none better than when he was tasked with helping out in Disneyland wherever he could during Black Sunday, the infamous grand opening day in 1955 when the Magic Kingdom was overrun with more people than it could handle. He was there primarily to assist the press covering the event, but when a frantic Fess Parker--Disney's Davy Crockett--rode up to Marty on horseback and said, "Help me get out of here before this horse hurts somebody," Marty had to act quickly to guide Parker and his mount safely to a backstage area.

And that was just during Marty's second month of employment.

There would be plenty of other adventures for Marty. He began his career while still attending UCLA where he was the student editor of the Daily Bruin campus newspaper. He was recruited by Disney to publish The Disneyland News, a souvenir newspaper for park guests. Upon graduation, he joined Disneyland's publicity and marketing departments which started him down the road to WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) where he worked on Disney's show development team for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. He would spend the rest of his career at WDI, eventually serving as its president and vice chairman.

Along the way, he worked closely with Walt Disney, writing speeches and media presentations for him. In the years following Walt's death, Marty opened all the Walt Disney World theme parks as well as Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland. Marty remains the only Disney employee to be present at every Disney park opening around the world.

Marty's memoir, Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms is a book full of interesting stories from his fascinating career. Marty rambles at times, jumping suddenly from one anecdote to another, but he still shares important pieces of Disney history from Walt's Disneyland heyday to Michael Eisner's brilliant and frustrating regime. Marty was there for all of it and shares his remembrances generously.

Marty is my guest today in The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Marty Sklar
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Saving Mr. Banks,' 'Mary Poppins' and 'Thor' in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks
We're working the red carpets for The Mouse Castle Lounge this week with coverage of the premieres of Saving Mr. Banks and Thor: The Dark World as well as a special 50th-anniversary screening of Mary Poppins at the TCL (formerly Grauman's) Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It's a star-studded episode with plenty of soundbites from the likes of Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Richard Sherman, Dick Van Dyke, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins. I'll even chat with my good friend (and fellow Disney dork) Julie Ringquist, who was at AFI Fest for the Saving Mr. Banks premiere. Does it do justice to the story of Walt Disney and P. L. Travers and the making of Mary Poppins? Julie shares her thoughts. 

I have more red carpet photos that I'll post later, but as I promised in the MCL, here's a look at the incredibly hot Jaimie Alexander, who plays Sif in Thor: The Dark World. Wow!

New Trailer for 'Maleficent' Starring Angelina Jolie

I love this new poster for Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie.

The trailer is even better.

The story of Sleeping Beauty's evil sorceress opens in the U.S. on May 30, 2014.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

'Star Wars: Episode VII' Countdown

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Let the countdown begin. Since I'm on the west coast, I'm using L.A. time. Your actual time may vary.

May the Force be with you!

Update 11/6/14: Added the new The Force Awakens graphic!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tony Baxter's Window and Pat Carroll, Part Two, in the MCL

Tony Baxter
The Mouse Castle congratulates Imagineer Tony Baxter for receiving his own window on Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. The popular Disney Legend, best known for his designs of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones Adventure, was honored in a ceremony Friday at the Happiest Place on Earth.

In The Mouse Castle Lounge today, I've got sound clips from the event featuring Tom Staggs, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and, of course, Tony himself, who talks about his 40-plus years of work at Walt Disney Imagineering and his humble beginnings scooping ice cream on Main Street as an eager-to-learn 17-year old. There were many adventures on Tony's career journey, including stints at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, but the original Magic Kingdom is where Tony will always be connected, and where he is now immortalized over the Main Street Magic Shop.

Also in the Lounge, I have part two of my conversation with actress/comedienne Pat Carroll. In part one, we talked about her iconic role as the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid as well as her work with some of the legends of early television like Sid Caesar, Steve Allen and Danny Thomas. Continuing on that theme, Pat reminisces about the great Red Skelton and talks about her award-winning stage work in roles ranging from Gertrude Stein to Shakespeare's John Falstaff (no, really). It's a delightful chat with a smart and talented woman who's spent over 60 years in show business. Enjoy!

Pat Carroll and me at this year's D23 Expo in Anaheim
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Related: Celebrating 'The Mouse Castle Lounge's' First Anniversary with Pat Carroll

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Celebrating 'The Mouse Castle Lounge's' First Anniversary with Pat Carroll

One year ago today, I started this strange podcasting experiment called The Mouse Castle Lounge. It's gone through a lot of twists and turns during the last 12 months: different formats, different lengths, different frequencies (did I really once try to put out an episode every day?!?). I even changed the title for one episode. Thirty-eight shows later, though, I'm happy to see that the Lounge has evolved into a half-hour (give or take a few minutes) interview show full of fascinating people and great conversations. I really should have figured it out sooner. Jeff Kurtti was my first guest on October 27, 2012 and his wonderful knowledge and insight about Disney history should have been my first clue that letting smarter people than I talk about what they know makes for a pretty damn good show.

There would be no Mouse Castle Lounge without an audience, so thank you for taking time to listen. Whether this is your first show or you've managed to slog through all 38 episodes, I'm so very happy you're here. The first round's on me.

I can't think of a better guest to help us celebrate our first anniversary than Pat Carroll, the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Pat's career reaches back to the early days of television where she worked with greats such as Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Steve Allen and Red Skelton. She's a classically trained actress and comedienne who's won an Emmy and a Grammy for her efforts. She's funny and boisterous and tells the best stories about her entertainment exploits. In part one of our conversation, Pat talks about Ursula and the creative people behind The Little Mermaid who helped her bring her character to life. She also talks about her television career and the perils of riding a motorcycle in Las Vegas.

So, cut off a slice of birthday cake and wash it down with some bubbly. It's time to celebrate in The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

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Related: Tony Baxter's Window and Pat Carroll, Part Two, in the MCL
          Disney Animator Ruben Aquino in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Monday, October 21, 2013

Billy Crystal Talks About Mike Wazowski and 'Monsters University'

On October 29th, Monsters University will be out on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand (it's already available on Digital HD download). In a Q&A provided by Disney, the voice of Mike Wazowski, comedian Billy Crystal, talks about his return to Monstropolis, working with John Goodman (Sulley) again, and surviving the scariest world of all, social media.

How does it feel to return to the character of Mike Wazowski in Monsters University?
It feels great. I love being this little guy. He’s my favorite character I’ve ever played in anything I have ever done. I don’t know what it is about him, but he’s so infectious to me. I love him.

What excites you most about the return of the monsters of Monsters, Inc.?
One of the great things about this movie is that the kids who went to see the first movie are now college age. When the first movie came out in 2001, John Goodman [who voices Sulley] and I hosted several screenings for kids in New York. All those kids, and kids throughout the world, were 6 or 7 years old back then. They are now the same age that Mike and Sulley are in the movie, so they can look at it in a totally different light. We recently screened the movie for about 400 film students at USC and they went berserk because the movie is about them. They are making the same decisions in their lives that Mike and Sulley are making in the movie.

When it comes to the recording booth for the movie, did you record your voice alongside John Goodman?
We always do that. In the very beginning, I said, “Can John come and work with me in the recording booth?” They said, “Well, we didn’t ask him. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen didn’t do it on Toy Story.” I said to them, “Well, get him in here and see if he’ll do it.” We soon started to work together in there and then great things started to happen.

Why is it better for you to work together in the recording booth?
There were scenes that could not be done unless we were together, like the quiet moments at the lake in Monsters University. They are very powerful scenes, but we weren’t looking at our scripts. We knew our lines and we were able to act very closely together, just like in the movie. I think it really shows.

How would you describe the personality of Mike Wazowski?
Mike loves to be in charge and he is very driven. I understand him completely. He doesn’t take disappointment easily and he’s always hoping for the best. I dig that.

You mention that Mike doesn’t take disappointment easily. When was the last time you felt disappointed?
I’m constantly disappointed. I was disappointed this morning when they said I was going to be working until 5pm! There are constant disappointments in my life. ‘This movie didn’t work well, that didn’t work well; they don’t want to make this, they don’t want to make that…’ There is always something going on, whether it’s in business or in your personal life. Most of the time, your day never really works out the way you want it to work out.

What’s your life motto, Billy?
I got an award at the Geffen Playhouse a while ago, and it was a really lovely night. When I accepted the award, I said to the crowd, “My grandfather said something which was really profound to me. He said, ‘If you hang around a store long enough, soon or later someone is going to give you something.’ So thanks for this!” [Laughs] I don’t know if I have one of those shiny mottos like, ‘Keep your sunny side up!’ Or, ‘Don’t turn your umbrella upside down!’ I just think, ‘Be happy you’re here, and just keep trying to keep yourself happy.’

What’s been your greatest achievement?
Professionally? That I’m still around! This year is turning out to be one of my busiest ever. I’ve had Monsters University and I wrote a book. Plus, I’m going back to Broadway with my one-person show. If there is one thing I loved in particular, it was doing [the play] 700 Sundays on Broadway – as well as all of the tours. That’s why we are going to do it one more time on Broadway.

Let’s step back in time, Billy… What were you like in college?

I was two different guys. At first, I went to school to play baseball – but that didn’t work out, so I transferred home to a junior college where they had a fantastic acting program. That’s where I really went nuts. I was exactly like Mike. I was heavily involved with everything. “Let’s do this, let’s do that!” We built a theater and I got my Actors’ Equity Card – and then I went to film school at NYU.

What did you study at NYU?
To this day, I don’t know why I went to NYU as a directing major. This was nearly 50 years ago and I’ve no idea why I didn’t go as an acting major. I guess I was drawn to directing. I directed various stage projects and I’d made some home movies, so I always liked it.

What was life like at NYU?
As soon as I got there, I went quiet because I was really out of my element. All of the young students were real filmmakers. There was Oliver Stone, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. Well, Chris was in the acting school but we took film classes together. And my film professor was Martin Scorsese, who was a graduate student not much older than us.

What was Martin Scorsese like back then?
This was 1968 to 1970, and he was an intense guy. He had long hair, a big beard and granny glasses. He was inspirational, but I couldn’t keep up with everything because I was a performer in my heart. Marty was very fluent in movies and he was extremely passionate about them, but I really felt like I wanted to be in front of people. I wanted to be a performer.

You famously hosted The Academy Awards for nine years. Would it be a thrill to host them again? Or would it scare you?
I don’t get scared. My fears are always, ‘Can I be better than I was?’ They haven’t asked me and they probably won’t ask – but if they do, I would listen. However, it’s not something I’m eager to do at this point in my life. As your choices get narrower and your chances to do other things get smaller, I would rather do other things than go back to something I’ve done before.

What scared you when you were younger?
To be honest, I still don’t love the darkness. The unknown has always been a little scary to me. Other than that, my Aunt Sheila was terrifying [when I was a child]. She’d put a napkin to her mouth and she’d say, “You’ve got something on your face, dear.” It would be like, ‘Let me just scratch that off your face; let me sand down your cheek!’

What scares you today?
Those nasty people on Twitter. The people with mean comments. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful people on there – but don’t read any of the people with mean comments.

Are you active on Twitter?
Yes, I am. I do it for publicity reasons. And, every once in a while, if I have something funny to say, I’ll say it on Twitter.

Have people written bad things about you online?
At times, yes. But they do it to everybody. Listen, no one likes to wake up knowing that someone doesn’t like them in the morning, but that’s the way it’s got to be. I don’t answer back. You can’t engage them because you don’t know who they are. It’s a weird world that we have uncovered. There are a lot of anonymous people out there on Twitter and anyone who can press ‘send’ is a potential critic. You get the good and the bad; not everyone is going to like it and I get that – but there is a meanness in some people.

What are your thoughts on the fact that a lot of movie writers and actors are moving to the small screen?
I think the best writing is in television right now. I honestly do. What shows do I like? Elementary is great. Johnny Lee Miller is good. He and Lucy Liu are very good together. I also watch [comedian] Louis C.K. whenever he’s on television, but the best show is The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Apart from watching television, how else do you relax?
I love being with the kids. And playing golf is a very nice way to get away from everybody and turn everything off. Sometimes, I might not even play a hole; I’ll just walk. Lately, I’ve also been drawing a little. I’ve been fooling around to see what comes out. And I also write. I can’t say it was hard work to write my latest book because it was very comforting to get on a computer every day. I really enjoyed writing it.

What can you tell us about the new book?
It’s a book about aging. I wrote it when I was approaching 65, which was in March 2013. I thought I would go out on the road and perform the things I wrote about – but then they became more like essays, so it became more of a book than a concert. I gave it to my literary agent and he said, “This is good.” So we sold it as a book, and I just kept going and going. It became a memoir about my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. It’s very funny, about a man getting older – and it’s called Still Fooling Them. That’s a mantra of mine right before I go out on stage. I really looked forward to working on my computer. Even though it was work, it was very cathartic. I loved it.

'Tinker Bell: An Evolution' in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

She's vain, stubborn and prone to jealousy, but she's also magical, intensely loyal and oh so cute. Outside of the Fab Five, Tinker Bell may be Disney's most beloved animated character. Animation historian Mindy Johnson's new book Tinker Bell: An Evolution traces Tink's history from her origins as a jingling beam of light in J.M. Barrie's original stage play Peter Pan to the lengthy and arduous trek that brought her to life at Disney. Mindy is my guest in The Mouse Castle Lounge as we discuss the popular pixie's many iterations over the years and the many artists and performers that contributed to her final look. How did Tink go from being a whimsical sprite named Tippytoe to become an iconic symbol of an entertainment empire with her own line of merchandise? Find out in today's edition of The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

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The Mouse Castle Lounge can also be heard on iTunes and Stitcher.

Monday, October 14, 2013

'Gravity Falls' Onto DVD

I won't lie. As much as I liked Gravity Falls when it debuted on the Disney Channel in 2012, I began to love it immensely when I met Kristen Schaal (voice of GF's Mabel Pines) at the D23 Expo and she gave me drink recipes.

Hey, my loyalties can be bought for the price of a cocktail. I am not ashamed.

But seriously, this is really fun show.

Gravity Falls finally comes to DVD on Tuesday with Six Strange Tales (the first six episodes of the series actually) and it's a great introduction to the odd folk and creatures of Gravity Falls, the mysterious backwoods Oregon town where 12-year old twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines spend the summer with their grumpy charlatan of a great uncle, "Grunkle" Stan (series creator Alex Hirsch).

There are bizarre things to investigate at every turn as ever-curious Dipper and ever-optimistic Mabel unlock the secrets of angry gnomes, giant lake monsters and wax figures come-to-life with the aid of a mysterious journal that may hold the key to even bigger secrets. It's all in good fun with irreverent humor and oddball characters that make Gravity Falls one of the most original animated shows on TV.

The following episodes are included on the DVD:

1 - “Tourist Trapped”
2 - “The Legend of the Gobblewonker”
3 - “Headhunters”
4 - “The Hand That Rocks the Mabel”
5 - “The Inconveniencing”
6 - “Dipper vs. Manliness”

The package also includes a "Mystery Journal 3" booklet containing sketches and clues to the secrets of Gravity Falls, but mostly it's just a lot of illegible scribbles. Hey, they can't give everything away--it's only season one. Just, remember...TRUST NO ONE!

And....COCKTAILS FOREVER! (Thanks, Kristen).