Monday, March 31, 2014

In the MCL: Disney Animator Ruben Aquino, Part Two

Ursula, The Little Mermaid
Disney animator Ruben Aquino is back in The Mouse Castle Lounge for part two of our conversation about his lengthy and notable career. He spent over 30 years at Disney, animating classic characters like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Adult Simba in The Lion King, Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, Pleakley and David in Lilo & Stitch, and Eudora and James in The Princess and the Frog.

In today's episode, Ruben explains what it is about a character that gets his attention and why voice actors are so critical to giving their characters just the right look. Ruben also talks about the layoffs at Disney Animation last year that for all intents and purposes put an end to 2D animation at the studio. It was a move that was disappointing, but not surprising. He also shares his tips for young artists looking to make a career in animation.
Ruben Aquino animated Tiana's parents, Eudora and James, in
The Princess and the Frog.

Related story: Disney Animator Ruben Aquino in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher.

Android app on Google Play

Thursday, March 27, 2014

'Frozen' and 'Saving Mr. Banks' Revisited

I finally caught up on my Blu-rays this week, giving another look at Saving Mr. Banks (which I really like) and Frozen (which I really don't). These opinions are pretty consistent with my first impressions a few months ago, although I must say my opinion of Frozen may have downgraded a bit. Blame it on "Let it Go" over-saturation. If I never hear that screechy, hyper-hyped, incessantly played song again, I will die a happy man.

I realize disliking Frozen in the wake of its Oscar-winning-financial-juggernaut-do-you-wanna-build-a-snowman existence to many is akin to hating puppies and Disneyland. I do not hate puppies or Disneyland. But, I have grown weary of a film that still feels more manufactured than created, more a triumph of marketing than of storytelling. It was a movie that was first teased by showcasing two comical sidekicks without once mentioning that there were (gasp!) princesses involved (Disney took a similar approach when it first advertised Tangled). This hesitance to embrace Frozen’s fairy tale roots always struck me as disingenuous, as if Disney didn't have the confidence to stick by the story it created, a story strongly in keeping with Disney’s animation legacy. For me, everything went downhill from there when the story did prove to be clunky and the songs mediocre. The only highlight was a slow but spunky snowman gifted with the best lines in the film (thank you, Josh Gad, for nailing Olaf’s character with your charming voice work). And yes, I’ll concede that the animation is quite lovely, so I guess that leaves me with no option but to watch Frozen with the sound turned down so I don’t have to hear that song.

To its credit, the Frozen Blu-ray does have the Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse, which is both a delightful tribute to Mickey’s black and white origins and a playful tweak of modern CG animation. Also good fun is the Blu-ray’s musical “Making of Frozen” production number with Gad, Kristen Bell and Jonathan Groff—make sure you watch that one all the way to the end. Disney history buffs will find “D’Frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen” a pleasure as well for Alice Davis’s wonderful recollections of her late husband, Disney animator and Imagineer Marc Davis (by the way, Happy Birthday this week, Alice!).

Meanwhile, I don’t think Saving Mr. Banks gets the credit it deserves for being the movie it is, a glossy, sentimental confection high on style, even if it is low on substance and factual accuracy. This is not a documentary about the making of Mary Poppins, so don’t ask it to be. It’s a very sweet and sincere fictionalization of what happened when two creative forces of nature, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) collided. Thompson shines as the persnickety Travers, who would rather die than have her precious children’s books given the Disney treatment. Tom Hanks never fully embodies the character of Walt, but he is charming and, well, no one plays Tom Hanks with a mustache better than Tom Hanks. Also strong in Saving Mr. Banks are Colin Farrell as Travers’ charismatic alcoholic father and Paul Giamatti as Travers’ good-natured driver.

Best among the Blu-ray bonus features is “The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present,” a stroll through the studio lot with Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock and songwriter Richard Sherman waxing sentimental about the Mary Poppins era at Disney.

Related: Reviewing 'Mr. Banks'
'Frozen' is Hard to Warm Up To

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Disney Animator Ruben Aquino in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Ruben Aquino
Ruben Aquino didn't set out to become an animator. He originally had plans to be an architect. Talent, timing and dumb luck had other ideas, though, leading Ruben to a 30-plus year career at Walt Disney Animation.

His memorable creations include Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, Adult Simba in The Lion King, Powhatan in Pocahontas, Captain Shang in Mulan, Pleakley and David in Lilo & Stitch, and Eudora and James in The Princess and the Frog.

Ruben's repertoire reflects a remarkable versatility. His characters range from heroes to villains to supporting players defying any specific type. "I kind of always wanted to try different things," says Ruben. "So I always let the directors kind of cast me where they thought I could help out the most."

Simba in The Lion King

In part one of our conversation in The Mouse Castle Lounge, Ruben and I discuss his early animation career that included a brief stint at Hanna-Barbera. He also talks about the chain of events that landed him at Disney and shares why Ursula will always be his favorite character. Enjoy!


Related Stories: Celebrating 'The Mouse Castle Lounge's' First Anniversary with Pat Carroll
In the MCL: Disney Animator Ruben Aquino, Part Two

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher.

Android app on Google Play

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Exploring the World of Mary Blair at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Mary Blair, ca. 1941
I'll find any excuse I can to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Their new Mary Blair exhibition may be the best reason yet.

Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair opened last Thursday in WDFM's newly dedicated Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall. It contains 200 works by the gifted Disney colorist and concept artist who influenced animated films from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Blair's talents extended well past the film world as demonstrated in her work on the iconic It's a Small World attraction and the exquisite 90-foot high Grand Canyon tile mural inside Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort Hotel.

Mary Blair had an unmistakable style incorporating bold colors and dramatic uses of light and shadow. In turn, her best work could also be whimsical and playful, as demonstrated in her post-Disney illustrations for Golden Books. She was a versatile and visionary artist who is finally getting her due with this extensive and inspiring collection of art at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

In the latest episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge, I'm at the Museum to speak with award-winning filmmaker, historian and exhibition curator John Canemaker about Mary Blair's life and art. I also chat with Museum executive director Kirsten Komoroske and members of Mary Blair's family. It's a fascinating tribute to one of Walt Disney's favorite artists. Enjoy!

Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair runs through September 7, 2014. For more information, please visit

Images courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum


Peter Pan

It's a Small World
Download the episode:

Related Story: Interview with Animation Historian and Author John Canemaker in 'The Mouse Castle Lounge'

Subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes and Stitcher.

Android app on Google Play

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Actor Sean Astin in the MCL: 'Lord of the Rings,' 'The Goonies' and 'Vox Populi'

Sean Astin, actor, director,
and host of the "Vox Populi" podcast

It may seem a bit unusual to have Sean Astin as a guest on a Disney-themed podcast, but then again the actor known best for his work in The Lord of the Rings, Rudy, and The Goonies has also appeared in his share of Disney projects. Astin was the voice of Special Agent Oso on Disney Junior, voiced Hercules for the Kingdom Hearts video game, and, while still a teenager, starred in The B.R.A.T. Patrol on The Wonderful World of Disney.

Yeah, he's got the Disney thing covered.

And anyway, when you get a chance to have Sean Astin on your show, you go for it.

The whole interview came about because last year I contributed to Sean's Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Vox Populi, a podcast he hosts. As a reward for my contribution, Sean gave me a 15-minute Skype call that I parlayed into a nearly 20-minute interview in The Mouse Castle Lounge. During our conversation, Sean talked about his show, his film career, and why voicing Mickey Mouse would be his dream job.

That was Sean's payback to me. My payback to you for being a loyal listener to The Mouse Castle Lounge, is to give you a chance to win some Sean Astin autographed swag. You can win this signed lithograph from Sean's first feature film The Goonies:

All you have to do is listen to the show, answer the oh-so-easy trivia question I ask during it, then call in your answer to the MCL Listener Line at (702) 475-5625. Be sure to leave your name, e-mail address, and the city you're calling from (you must be a U.S. Resident to enter). This weekend, I'll draw a winner at random from all the correct entries and, quicker than you can say, "Goonies never say die," the prize could be yours. Good luck!

Today, let The Mouse Castle Lounge be your one show to rule them all. Enjoy!