Tomorrowland never knows

It’s been almost a week since I saw Tomorrowland, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

In all honesty, I kept thinking I had more to say about this subject after I hit the “publish” button (which ALWAYS happens when you’re writing something). So here are a few more thoughts about the movie. Slight spoilers ahead!

Out of all the movies I’ve seen, this one has nagged at me in ways I can’t explain. A small part of me can’t believe that the film didn’t do as well at the box office. I’m sure the secretive marketing didn’t help, but still. I’ve been reading some of the reviews. I even saw one story debunking that the movie has traces of Ayn Rand. I can’t answer that one because I haven’t read anything of hers (which could be a good thing; I don’t know). The Rotten Tomatoes meter has stayed around 50 percent, so you either love the movie or hate it.

Put me on the Optimist side.

Tommorowland Mondo poster by Kevin Tong
Tommorowland Mondo poster by Kevin Tong

I’ve always been a Disney fan, especially following the adventures of Donald Duck and the gang. It wasn’t until my adult years that I became fascinated with Walt Disney the person, not the corporate symbol. Last year, I spent just about all that time reading Neal Gabler’s biography on Disney, where I got a more detailed picture of the man. I joined the free portion of D23, Disney’s fan club, where you could dive into more historical tidbits. Because of my close proximity to Walt Disney World, I’ve been especially intrigued by how this Vacation Kingdom came to be. My heart swelled as I read science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s early script for Spaceship Earth at EPCOT Center.

A couple of years ago, rumblings about the movie headed out to the masses, especially the discovery of the “1952” box, which was filled with seemingly random items (dramatic pause). Or were they?

Being a writer/creative-type person, I loved how Tomorrowland’s backstory was being portrayed, especially the tale of the secret society Plus Ultra. There’s the website for a group trying to stop Plus Ultra (even says so in the title). There was an alternate reality game where another website had dashes and dots that led to various locations, which led to more clues. There are various interviews from the creators, like this one with Jeff Jensen, who even wrote a prequel novel aptly titled Before Tomorrowland. Through a bit of serendipity, I had bought a boxed set filled with the musical portions of the attractions at the 1964 World’s Fair, which, as it turned out, played a role in the film.

Strangely, a lot of this didn’t end up in the movie. All backstory. I don’t know if it was supposed to be there, but the movie still worked for me.

Like Casey in the movie, I was flabbergasted by the stunning visuals of the city of Tomorrowland. I did my best to see as many of the different references in that comic book shop. I got “It’s a Small World” and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” stuck in my head.

Maybe it’s because I have two young daughters that I’m looking at this movie through a different set of eyes. Maybe I want them to have that passion, that drive, to give the world a brighter tomorrow. Or I’m just a softie for science fiction movies, and this hit all the right buttons.

If the fates allow, I would love to go back to the theater to catch stuff I missed the first go-around. If not, I will definitely see it again at home when it arrives on Blu-ray. I hope others give it a shot.

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A Great Big, Beautiful Tomorrow

I saw Tomorrowland earlier today. I had been nervously scanning the Rotten Tomatoes meter, checking to see if the new Disney movie was gonna be a winner or a stinker. At 50 percent, I figured I had nothing to lose.

Of course, I had been following some of the periphery advertising for the past couple of years, starting with the Tomorrowland app showing various artifacts from the 1952 Box shown at the D23 Expo. The items in the box intrigued me. When I heard Brad Bird (The Incredibles) was directing the film, I knew it would be in good hands.

I liked Tomorrowland. I really liked it.

When I go into a darkened multiplex, I try to have an open mind with the movie I’m about to see. Every once in a while I’ll let outside forces cloud my judgement (*coughcough*The Phantom Menace*coughcough*), but I make it a point to get lost in the movie. If something doesn’t ring true within the context of the flick, my Spidey-senses may start tingling.

I didn’t feel that way with Tomorrowland.

wallpaper_01

I’m sure there were a few things wrong, but they didn’t detract from the experience. Mr. Bird and company sucked me into the world of Tomorrowland. I choked up in a few spots (I won’t spoil them for you), and I got a lump in my throat at the end. Now that I’ve seen it, I can go back to all those websites and read all those articles and watch videos I’ve been avoiding.

The reviews for Tomorrowland have been mixed, as that tomato-meter can attest. When I peaked at comments on various sites (which was probably mistake No. 1), some were disappointed certain things didn’t make it into the movie. Which leads into one of the worst things a moviegoer can think about:

The movie didn’t live up to the expectations in my head, so it must be crap.

I’m sure that’s what happened with the aforementioned Phantom Menace. Just about every Star Wars fan had in their minds what the movie should be, and when it didn’t emerge that way, they felt their childhoods were trampled upon, which sounds very trifle. Sure, you can critique the movie itself, but when you start saying, “Well, they didn’t put in this, this, and this. Why didn’t he put that in? THIS MOVIE SUCKS!!!1!!1!” that doesn’t lead anywhere. For once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. It gets worse when you critique a movie you didn’t even see.

Maybe this movie will pick up a bit more steam as the weeks roll along (it only made some $40 million over the weekend). Maybe it’ll find a bigger second life once it hits Blu-ray/DVD/digital/inserted into your brain. I hope so. It’s got a message of bringing about, dare I say it, a great, big beautiful tomorrow.

Gotta get back in time

Growing up, I was fascinated with cars.

But not just any cars. These had to be the most sophisticated pieces of machinery ever assembled. Like a talking car that could jump over chasms and banter with David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider). Or robots that could turn into vehicles (The Transformers). Or vehicles that could make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (the Millennium Falcon).

So in 1985 (or maybe it was a year or two later, the memory is fluctuating), I discovered a little movie called Back to the Future. I think our family had first watched the movie when it came out on VHS. Being 9-10 years old, a lot of the plot probably flew past my head, but I was intrigued by Doctor Emmett Brown’s time machine: a DeLorean.

It had gull-wing doors! It could travel through the space-time continuum by reaching 88 mph, thus activating the flux capacitor! It got cold whenever it got back from its time trip! It sounded like Luke’s landspeeder from Star Wars! It had a clicking sound like the turn signal from my parents’ car!

Anyway, I had found my new favorite cool car.

Jump ahead in time to 2004. At my job, I spent a few years writing about classic cars and their owners. One day, when looking at a list of potential cars to write about, I spotted a familiar name. DeLorean.

Could it be?

It was!

After all these years, I finally got to be next to a real DeLorean. This was heavy.

Jump ahead once more to 2009, when lightning struck the clock tower twice. Someone else had a DeLorean! I could dust off my cheesy Back to the Future references once more.

In honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary (30 years? it is a nice round number), after the time jump (ahem), you can read those articles from the recent past. Feel free to cue up some Huey Lewis and the News or Marvin Berry.

Continue reading Gotta get back in time

My comics prayers have been answered

Last July I had written about my love of Disney comics and how I hoped Walt Disney Comics and Stories would be resurrected from comic limbo.

Apparently, the fine folks at IDW Publishing listened to me (I know, I’m sure they didn’t, but still).

From IDW's website
From IDW’s website

Check out July. Yup. It’s WALT DISNEY COMICS AND STORIES. WITH THE ORIGINAL NUMBERING.

I am over the moon and Duckburg over this news. This means Disney comics will be out on shelves in America once more. And we’ll get to see some stories that were only available overseas. My wallet, of course, will be giving me the evil eye even more, but that’s OK. I’ll probably get Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and WDC&S , although my wallet is probably saying, “Well, if you’re buying three, you might as well get the fourth one, ya maroon!”

But wait, you might say. IDW? Why isn’t Marvel putting these comics out since Disney owns them? To be honest, I really don’t know. Disney has all sorts of licenses floating out there. Fantagraphics has been reprinting the Mickey Mouse newspaper strips, as well as (my personal favorite) the Carl Barks and Don Rosa Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge stories. Maybe Marvel’s plate is a bit full to add even more issues. Who knows.

I do have complete confidence in IDW treating this material right; I’ve been enjoying what they’re doing with the Transformers franchise, and my two girls are especially fond of the My Little Pony line (they like flipping through the digital versions, and they’ve got dog-eared copies of those mini-comics).

So now we wait until April for Uncle Scrooge, May for Donald Duck, and July for Walt Disney Comics and Stories. Good thing I’m patient. Mostly.

An ode to a Cavalier

The last straw was a broken alternator.

I had been driving my grandfather’s tannish 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier since college (1996 or thereabouts), and it had been experiencing growing mechanical issues, from a wacky fuel pump to a broken air conditioning to an oil leak. But when I got the warning light while driving back from Disney World around the summer of 2001, I thought, OK. It is time.

When I brought in the Cavalier to the local Chevy dealer for an oil change, I went out into the lot to peruse the selection. Not long before I wandered over to the Cavaliers did a salesman approach me.

I had my eyes on a dark blue two-door 2001 Cavalier coupe. When the salesman and I got into the car to take it for a test drive, the steering wheel threw me for a loop. I couldn’t adjust it to get my longish legs inside. And I noticed while there was a CD player, there wasn’t a cassette player (for all you youngsters out there, cassettes are these miniature reel-to-reel tapes that play music).

We hopped out of that Cavalier and got into another dark blue two-door Cavalier coupe. Not only did this have a combo CD/tape player, but it had tilt steering.

Perhaps this was like Bumblebee in the Bayverse Transformers, making sure Sam would pick him as his car. Perhaps not.

The test drive went well. The radio worked magnificently. Actually, it worked too well. The bass was overpowering. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if they had installed an extra subwoofer. I would end up dialing back the bass under the mid-point, and it was still all about the bass.

I decided this was the car. It took about a week of wrangling with the dealer and the bank to get everything finalized, but on a Friday, I drove off to work in a BRAND. NEW. CAR!

Over the next 14 years, this car would take me on various adventures for work. I’d drive from Central Florida to Daytona Beach without any problems. It hauled my drums whenever I played at church. I took trips to Jacksonville to see my family. It took its first long trip up to Nashville, Tennessee, with my soon-to-be-wife to meet her family. One morning during another Nashville trip in December, frost covered the car, so naturally I had to take pictures of it.

I felt a sense of happiness when I set up the final payment on the car. After five years, it was mine.

The car passed 100,000 miles. Three of the four engine cylinders conked out, but after an expensive intervention, the car got a new lease on life. The air conditioning (a must in Florida) would go out when the car idled. One morning, on my way to work, I discovered the car didn’t stay cool while idling for long periods of time, because the CHECK GAGES light appeared, and the car temperature gauge was rising. I pulled into a parking lot to let it cool down. When I left, it was back to normal.

A few years after that, while driving to work, the car’s temperature gauge rose, and I noticed steam coming out of the front. The radiator had to be replaced. I was leaving work, backing out, only to discover I couldn’t put the car into drive, or park, or anything. The paint job slowly disintegrated on the roof and hood (perhaps a consequence of being out in that oppressive Florida sun).

The CD player could play music, but only if you jumped ahead few tracks so it could read the disc, then go back to the first song. Then it wouldn’t play at all. No problem, there’s still the tape player. I could get a CD adapter. Only by the time I found one, the tape player started acting up. Now I was flipping around the radio dial, being subjected to the Taylor Swifts and Rhiannas and Maroon 5s amongst Genesis and Billy Joel and Rush.

The car’s passenger side window stopped working. The driver’s side worked, but at times, it would take forever to get it back up. Then I decided against rolling it down again…until car shop mechanics would roll it down even though I told them not to do that.

The car passed 200,000 miles. This, I wasn’t expecting. Despite all of its foibles, the Cavalier still got me from point A to point B.

By this point, two young children have entered the picture. My wife and I had been talking about getting a larger vehicle to house everybody, maybe a minivan.

On a whim, I searched on another dealer’s website their used car inventory. I spotted a 2011 Chevy HHR. It was dark blue. It had relatively low mileage. My wife said, “We have to go look at it. TODAY.”

So we did. It was a rainy, dreary late afternoon in January 2015 when we took the HHR out for a test drive. It rode like a dream.

The next day, I found myself saying goodbye to an old friend a little sooner than I thought.

I will miss that little Cavalier. It was more than a car. It had become my Millennium Falcon, my old bucket of bolts that could get point-five past lightspeed. But as with anything, nothing lasts forever, and it had served out its time beyond measure.

Now, it’s time to see if I can get this HHR up past 200,000 miles. I think it’s doable.

Oh, what a merry Christmas Day

Christmas time is here, but I’m not here to talk about Snoopy. I’m here to talk about another anthropomorphic animal.

Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

Not sure if it was 1984 or 1985, but NBC was playing a one-hour special with the main attraction Mickey’s Christmas Carol. But before we got to the feature, we had to watch three holiday-themed cartoons:

Pluto’s Christmas Tree…

The Art of Skiing (or Sheeiing)…

and Donald’s Snow Fight…

And then, with that famous Mickey face now wearing a top hat and scarf, the main feature could begin. (Yes, I should probably post the video of the cartoon, but I’m sure you can find it out there on your own. I’m building suspense. OK, I’m a scrooge. Bah! Humbug!)

For my 8-year-old self, this was probably my first exposure to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’m sure I thought this was the coolest since all the characters were now your favorite Disney characters. And Donald was nephew to Uncle Scrooge! Now that’s typecasting. Nevertheless, in 30 minutes, the Disney gang got to the heart of the story of Scrooge’s redemption.

To make sure our family could watch this again (and again), we taped it off the air using one of those new-fangled VCRs. I had become quite the remote control operator by this point, thanks to me taping episodes of the Transformers without the commercials. I am especially proud of the fact I paused and unpaused at one point (when Scrooge closes the curtains of his bed) so perfectly, you could barely tell there was a break.

At the time, I didn’t know that this was the first Mickey Mouse short since “The Little Things” in 1953(!), or that this was Wayne Allwine’s first appearance voicing Mickey. Sadly, it would be the last work of Clarence Nash playing Donald. And if you read the credits, you might spot a now-familiar name in the list of animators: John Lasseter, now the chief creative officer of the animation studios. Who knew that kid would go places?

All these years later, I finally procured a DVD of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, so now I can pass on the tradition of watching this with my children. And yes, I still choke up in spots. No, that’s not a tear going down my cheek right now. As an added bonus, the disc includes one of the three cartoons (the Pluto one). I do have the Donald toon on another disc, so now I just have to get the Goofy cartoon, and I can sorta kinda recreate the TV special.

Merry Christmas, one and all, and God bless us, everyone!

12/14/14: EDITED TO ADD: Thanks to the magic of Twitter user Dan Cunningham, I stumbled across this series of blog posts about the making of Mickey’s Christmas Carol by Mike Peraza, who actually worked on the film! Very enlightening stuff there.

Mickey and the gang, via Mike Peraza's website
Mickey and the gang, via Mike Peraza’s website

 

It’s melody time

I’ve babbled a lot about my love of books, comics, and writing, but I haven’t delved too much into my other big love: music. It’s about as important as writing. If I was forced onto a deserted island and was given access to a few things, I would have to have something from both disciplines.

The seeds were planted from the time I came into the world, thanks to my musical parents. My mom teaches elementary music, my dad was a high school band director. They had all kinds of music playing in the house from pop to rock to jazz to classical. Heck, I heard “St. Thomas” as a marching band arrangement before I heard the Sonny Rollins version and thought, “Where have I heard this before?”

In middle school, students had a choice: PE or band. Being the not-so-athletic type, I decided to go with band, but which instrument to choose? What happens next may astound you.

My dad suggested I play the drums.

No, that’s not an error. I know the cliché, kid wants to play the drums, parents try every way to dissuade them. But that didn’t happen. They WANTED me to play the drums. How could I refuse?

I started out on the snare drum, and eventually made my way to the drum set. I felt like the king of the world when I could play a simple rock beat.

This lead me to listening to music in a different light. Instead of soaking in the entire song, I found myself drawn to what the drummer was doing. One of the first groups I latched onto was Genesis, featuring the amazing drumming of Phil Collins (and Chester Thompson on the live albums). Thanks to Modern Drummer magazine, I soaked in as much information through all those profiles and columns.

In the 10th grade, I transferred to an arts school in Jacksonville, where I was amongst my people. I had one class period devoted to percussion. I was learning music theory. Soon I got the crazy idea of becoming a professional musician. I thought I could be one of those session drummers I read about in Modern Drummer. I joined all the school bands from marching to concert. I participated in solo and ensemble contests.

And then, one day in my junior or senior year back in my old high school, something clicked.

I didn’t want to be a professional musician anymore.

A while back, someone on the Internet showed a graph tracking the path one takes when learning a craft. I’m paraphrasing here, but you climb and fall and climb and fall, and then you hit a wall. If you scale over the wall and keep going, things will get a little better. Most people hit the wall and turn around.

At the time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I was supposed to be a drummer! I had found my calling! My destiny!

Part of me now thinks I hit a wall with my drumming, and I didn’t want to keep going. So I scaled back the serious-o-meter, making drumming more of a hobby.

Thankfully, I discovered another career path — writing. But I haven’t abandoned music completely. When I went to the University of Florida, I got to play in some of the bands, including one of the jazz bands. I played the drums in local churches. And when I get a spare moment, I put on the headphones and play along with Phil and Chester.

And on occasion, I’ve found a way to marry both of these loves through my day job. But there are times when I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with music.

But I don’t dwell on it too much.