Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Disney Infinity 2.0' is Marvel-ous

Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) hosted the launch of
Disney Infinity 2.0
In an announcement that surprised no one, Disney Interactive finally revealed what their new upgraded version of Disney Infinity will be all about. Still, it was some pretty...ahem...super news. The Mouse Castle's Christi Andersen was on hand for the launch event in Hollywood:
Riding the wave of their most successful video game ever (3 million starter sets sold and counting), Disney Interactive on Wednesday announced the launch of Disney Infinity 2.0. The press event, officially titled Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes and hosted by Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), confirmed the addition of the Marvel Super Heroes to the Disney Infinity universe. Samuel L. Jackson even made an appearance as Nick Fury in the opening video segment. Avengers, assemble! 
The character figures for Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were revealed, with developers hinting that over twenty Marvel characters will be included in version 2.0 (Loki and Rocket Raccoon were spotted in a promo video). More Disney characters will also be included in the new version, but it looks as though we’ll have to wait for E3 in Los Angeles in June for more details. 

There were many new features and additions highlighted at the event, but first--those of you who have already invested in the original Disney Infinity, don’t fret--all Disney Infinity bases, figures, and power discs are compatible with both versions, as are previously created Toy Boxes. Version 2.0 enhancements include a new massive environment and improved character locomotion (hover, forward flight, super jump, and wall crawl, depending on the character), as well as more customizable attributes and skill trees. 
Thor, Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye and Hulk
make up the first wave of characters in Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes.

Since users spend 60% of their time in Toy Box mode, many of the enhancements regarding usability have been concentrated here. For example, users will see a new brush system where they can more easily create environments such as cities, racetracks, and tree houses. Builder characters, who can be dropped in to automatically create environments, have also been added. Interiors will be available in buildings, including a “Home” area which can be customized to display progress and trophies. 80 new power discs will have features including costume changes, environment customization, vehicles, and a new team-up mode. 
The new Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes Starter Pack will include the video game, 3 figures, 1 base, 2 Toy Box game discs, 1 Avengers Play Set Piece, and 1 Web Code card.

--Christi Andersen

Bob Hoskins, 'Roger Rabbit's' Eddie Valiant, Dead at 71

Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Actor Bob Hoskins, best known to Disney fans for his role as the irascible but honorable private detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit died today at the age of 71. TMZ reports that Hoskins died of pneumonia. He retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

The talented character actor was known for his roles in The Long Good Friday, The Cotton Club, Brazil and Hook. In 1987, Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for his lead role in Mona Lisa.

A toast to you, Eddie. You will be missed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Disney Animator Andreas Deja in the MCL

Andreas Deja
Andreas Deja always knew he wanted to be a Disney animator. Born in Poland and raised in Germany, he sent his first letter to the studio inquiring about a job when he was only ten years old. He received a form letter in return, but it was full of encouraging words urging him to study art and build a portfolio. As a teen, he continued to practice his craft, corresponding with Eric Larson, one of Disney's Nine Old Men who headed up the animation training program at the studio. Andreas graduated from university in 1980 and by the end of the summer had accepted a position at Disney. It would mark the beginning of a relationship that would last over 30 years.

The first film Andreas worked on was The Black Cauldron, doing early character design, costume research and some animation. Over time, he lent his talent to Oliver & Company, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid. He found his niche as a master of villains when he became supervising animator of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. More bad guys would follow: Jafar in Aladdin and Scar in The Lion King.

Scar in The Lion King
Andreas finds drawing villains more fun than drawing heroes. He says, "You have so much more to work with in terms of expressions and acting and drawing-wise than you would have with a nice princess or a prince, you know, where you have to be ever so careful with the draftsmanship." Still, he managed to draw his share of heroes. He was supervising animator of adult Hercules in Hercules, as well as that most heroic of rodents, Mickey Mouse, in the shorts The Prince and the Pauper and Runaway Brain.

Today, we celebrate one of Disney's truly great animation artists. Andreas Deja is my guest in The Mouse Castle Lounge.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

'As Dreamers Do': Portrait of the Artist as a Plaster Saint

Olan Rogers as Walt Disney in a publicity shot from
As Dreamers Do.
In an interview I did some years back with Walt Disney biographer Neal Gabler, he recounted a conversation he had with Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller while he was researching his book. He explained to Diane his intent to tell an honest story about her father that would certainly include facts she might not approve of. Her response, as Gabler remembered, was, “You know what I really hate? I hate books that make my father out to be a plaster saint."

I've talked to other people who knew Diane and who recalled her making similar statements. As much as she disliked the many articles and books over the years that took cheap shots at her father, likewise she had no time for those that blindly idolized Walt Disney and insisted on hoisting him onto an untouchable pedestal. This was a prime motivator in her creating the Walt Disney Family Museum, to take an unflinching look at her father and his legacy, to praise his many accomplishments, but to also treat him as a human being. Walt was a creative genius, to be sure, but he could also be stubborn, moody and impatient--not a person on whose bad side you wanted to be. In other words, human. It's these very foibles and complexities that still make him such a fascinating individual nearly 50 years after his death.

In the new, independent Walt biopic As Dreamers Do, director Logan Sekulow chronicles the great showman's early life, from his years as a youngster in Marceline to the beginning of his career as an artist and filmmaker in Kansas City. Sekulow shows no interest, however, in exploring the deeper human aspects of Walt Disney's personality. Instead, he opts to portray Walt (Olan Rogers) as a talented and tireless optimist who can do no wrong--ever--in the eyes of his friends and family. Walt is destined for greatness, and everyone knows it because everyone says so. Repeatedly. Not ten minute goes by at any point in the film without some character gushing about how talented/clever/resourceful/blessed little Walter is. It's hagiography at its worst. Like the title character in Mary Poppins, the film that would define his final years, young Walt is practically perfect in every way. And if he does make a mistake or a poor decision, he's rarely admonished for it. If he is, he's always quickly forgiven because, gosh darn it, he's a dreamer and dreamers never quit.

The dialog is cringe-worthy. Characters don't have conversations so much as they trade speeches with one another. "If anybody can think of something, it's you," Ub Iwerks (William Haynes) enthuses to Walt. "You're a thinker. I've got your number. You've got one of the greatest minds in all the world!" That's a typical line in a script by Wendy Ott that I suspect has a lot of exclamation points in it.

As Dreamers Do suffers from a "tell, don't show" approach to storytelling that continually sucks the life out of the narrative. We see Walt's father Elias (Mark Stuart) talk about the demanding paper route Walt and his brother Roy will take on in Kansas City, but we never see them toss one paper. We hear about Walt's very first job at the Pesman-Rubin Commercial Art Studio (notable for being the place Walt met Ub Iwerks), but we never see him work there. Then there's the intrusive and unnecessary narration by country singer Travis Tritt that regularly brings the film to a crashing halt to tell you what everyone is thinking, feeling and doing--because the movie is too timid and lazy to actually show you.

It's clear that Sekulow idolizes Walt Disney and wants very much for you to like him. But Sekulow's inexperience as a feature filmmaker and his excessive earnestness about the subject matter only do a disservice to a complex and fascinating dreamer. Walt is no plaster saint and deserves better.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I purchased a pre-sale package of As Dreamers Do to support the film and to receive an advance copy of it (it will premiere in Nashville on May 13th). As part of the package, my name appears in the closing credits of the film--which is really cool--but it still doesn't make it a better film.

Friday, April 25, 2014

'Feast' to Open 'Big Hero 6' in November

Disney Animation released a first look at the new short, Feast, which will open for their animated Marvel flick Big Hero 6 in U.S. theaters on November 17, 2014.

Feast is directed by Patrick Osborne, who was animation supervisor on Disney's Oscar-winning short Paperman. The story of one man's love life as seen through the eyes of his dog Winston at mealtime, the short film will premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking Marc Davis with WDFM Curator Michael Labrie

Maleficent concept by Marc Davis
If you were to create the ultimate exhibition on the art of Marc Davis, you'd need a pretty big room to represent his animation creations from Thumper and Br'er Rabbit to Tinker Bell, Maleficent and Cruella de Vil. Then, of course, you'd have to consider all the concept and story work he did on Disneyland attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and it's a small world. It would be a daunting task to do justice to that rare artist--one of Walt's Nine Old Men--who made an incredibly successful and influential leap from animation to theme park design during his 43 years with Disney.

Because of sheer volume, the Walt Disney Family Museum will be starting small in their upcoming presentation of Davis's work. They're making it all about the ladies.

Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Mark Davis opens at WDFM on April 30th in the Theater Gallery and will spotlight over 70 pieces of Davis's work, concentrating on the iconic female characters he brought to life during his legendary career. The exhibition will be a fitting counterpoint to Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair (currently in the Museum's Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall), as both Davis and Blair enjoyed a decades-long friendship and greatly admired each other's work.

I'm happy to welcome the co-curator (with animator Andreas Deja) of Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales, Michael Labrie, to The Mouse Castle Lounge as we talk about Marc Davis's incredible body of work and what it was about him that made Walt Disney refer to Davis as his "Renaissance Man."

Don't make me go all fire-breathing dragon on you. Give a listen and enjoy!

Michael Labrie (l.) with artist Tyrus Wong


Related Story: Exploring the World of Mary Blair at the Walt Disney Family Museum

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Elle Fanning Visits Disneyland

Elle Fanning, who'll play Princess Aurora opposite Angelina Jolie in Maleficent next month, dropped by Disneyland over the weekend for a guest appearance at the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. She also took some time to pose in front of her character's namesake castle.

I do like the kick-ass horned mouse ears.

Maleficent opens in U.S. theaters on May 30th.

Related Stories:
New Trailer for 'Maleficent' Starring Angelina Jolie

'Maleficent' Lacks Evil Appeal

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

John Canemaker
John Canemaker is a tall, soft-spoken gentleman with a passion for animation. His easy-going demeanor belies a rough, post-WWII childhood he spent in the shadow of an abusive father, a relationship John explored with great emotion and pathos in his 2005 Oscar-winning animated short The Moon and the Son: an Imagined Conversation. In the film, John tries to make peace with his late father, an angry and bitter man who ran with the Mob and served time in prison, but who also was a decorated war hero who helped his son acquire his first art supplies. Press John for details about his father now and he's more inclined to let the film speak for itself. For the most part, he said what he needed to say and has moved on.

He's much more comfortable talking about animation, a conversation he has kept going for most of his adult life. For over thirty years, John has taught animation at New York University, where he is a fully-tenured professor. All the while, he's continued to produce animated films and write books about animation history. He has researched all of the greats of the industry: Walt Disney and the Nine Old Men, Winsor McKay, Tex Avery, Mary Blair, Joe Grant and Joe Ranft, and many more. He has regularly appeared in the bonus features of Disney home video releases, offering his commentary and insight on such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumbo and Peter Pan.

I spoke to John last month at the Walt Disney Family Museum, where he is curator of the current exhibition, Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair. Our time was limited then, so I asked John if he would like to revisit the Lounge to share his fascinating life and career with me in greater detail. He agreed. In our conversation today, John talks about his love of animation, the artists and animators who have inspired him, and yes, the relationship with his father that he says made him who he is today. It's a revealing look at a brilliant and dedicated artist and educator. Enjoy!

John Canemaker and producer Peggy Stern accept
the 2005 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Related Story: Exploring the World of Mary Blair at the Walt Disney Family Museum

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