Tag Archives: disney

Star Tours Flight 1138 to Star Wars Land boarding soon

Earlier today, while reloading my Twitter feed regarding the D23 Expo, I learned the best news of all: Disney is making a Star Wars Land at Disneyland and (more important to me geographically) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com
Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com

I did all I could to not make the sound of a Krayt dragon. The first version.

Ever since the Star Wars films have blasted their way onto the big screen, I’ve always wanted to experience that world firsthand. I finally got that chance in the early 1990s when our family went on vacation to Disney World. I’m sure upon entering the Disney-MGM Studios, I made a beeline to Star Tours (or clamored my parents to let us go there first). I had seen behind-the-scenes footage on the Disney Channel, but now I was here in the flesh, watching Artoo and Threepio in the first waiting area. I was especially gobsmacked upon taking that wild ride in the Starspeeder. Then, as I walked down the long hallway and entered the merchandising area (Endor Vendors at first, now Tatooine Traders) I gawked at all the cool stuff, wondering if I should get the T-shirt or the keychain.

With Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which I only first experienced last year, the Star Wars experience was now in 3-D, and you didn’t know where in the galaxy far, far away you were going next. Tatooine? Hoth? Would I ever see Han Solo in the opening portion?

And now comes today’s news. A whole area in the park devoted to Star Wars. A chance to fly the Millennium Falcon? Sign me up! Going into a Cantina? I’ll keep my lightsaber handy, in case any scum and villainy cause trouble. The folks at Disney Imagineering are pretty good at that whole immersive experience thing at the parks, so I’m sure they’ll create something amazing with Star Wars Land.

This would definitely give Disney’s Hollywood Studios the shot in the arm it needs. I’ve always enjoyed going to this park, but despite all the things you can do there, it still felt like there wasn’t a lot to do. Sounded weird in my head, too. And with all the various attractions closing the past few months, I wondered what the heck they had in store.

Perhaps I found my answer.

I’ve never been to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal Orlando, but from what I’ve seen and heard from commercials and such, I have a feeling the Star Wars land will replicate that: the idea of being in the world. Sure, your imagination can conjure all kinds of things after watching the movies or reading the books or playing the video games. But there’s something special about being in a location, soaking all the senses and processing them in your brain.

Whenever this land opens, I will be able to bring a childhood dream to life: to experience more of the Star Wars universe in the real world.

Did that Rodian look at me funny?

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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.

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.

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.

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

 

One little spark

Comic books in America featuring Disney characters have become as rare as a short line to get into Soarin’ at Epcot.

At one time back in the 1940s and ’50s, Disney comics were some of the biggest-selling in America. But they slowly faded into near obscurity during the 1970s and ’80s, while they have thrived across the ocean. (Dan Cunningham has put together extensive blog posts on Disney Comics during the late ’80s and early ’90s) One of those ’70s comics is the fabled Donald Duck and the Golden Helmet issue, which I’ve documented elsewhere.

The original Donald Duck Dynabrite comic
The original Donald Duck Dynabrite comic

In the 2000s, there was a glimmer of hope. Boom! Studios picked up the license and brought Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories back from publishing purgatory, along with other stuff. It was cool seeing these stories that originally appeared in Europe. Boom! also brought in writer/artist Roger Langridge for some Muppet Show comics (I read one issue, it was fabulous).

But Boom! and Disney parted ways. My memory’s a little foggy on this, but it may have been right around the time Disney bought Marvel. While the immediate jokes of Mickey joining the Avengers appeared, part of me hoped that maybe WDC&S would return once more.

Seekers of the Weird No. 1, via Comic Book Resources
Seekers of the Weird No. 1, via Comic Book Resources

Instead, the House of Ideas went with a Disney Kingdoms imprint, kicking things off with Seekers of the Weird, which takes its cue from an abandoned Disneyland attraction called the Museum of the Weird that would have been within the Haunted Mansion. Plans were scrapped, but the legend grew over the years. Now, it has become a comic book written by Brandon Seifert, drawn by Karl Moline and  Rick Magyar, colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and lettered by Joe Caramagna. I’ve read the first two issues of the miniseries, and it’s pretty good so far.

My spider senses really went off the scales when I learned the next miniseries in the Disney Kingdoms world was … FIGMENT! That lovable purple dragon, along with his partner-in-crime the Dreamfinder from the Journey into Imagination! ride at EPCOT Center (or Epcot, depending on how the wind blows) was going to get his own comic! It would be written by Jim Zub, illustrated by Felipe Andrade, colored by Beaulieu, and lettered by Caramagna.

But I kept reading stories on Twitter that the issue was selling out at comic shops. I bit my fingernails off. But! Someone on Twitter said that it was available at several places in Disney World, including a store in Downtown Disney. Our family was planning to go to the latter that weekend, so we had a new quest. We checked out the World of Disney store first (mainly because a massive thunderstorm hit), but I didn’t see any. The rain let up a bit, so we headed to Once Upon a Toy next. We reached the section where they have all the Marvel stuff. Lo and behold, tucked in with some other books was Figment No. 1.

Figment in the wild!
Figment in the wild! (photo by Michael Fortuna)

They also had the other issues of Seekers of the Weird elsewhere in the store, so I got No. 2. Strangely, they didn’t have No. 3. Weird, indeed.

As for the Figment issue itself: it was a great introduction to how Figment and the Dreamfinder met, and the ending sets the stage for a rather fanciful adventure. I’ve now heard the second issue of Figment sold out before it even hit comic shop shelves. Wow. Hopefully, Once Upon a Toy will have copies.

Add to Fantagraphics reprinting the mouse and duck tales of Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, and Don Rosa, and it seems we’ve come into a bit of a golden age of Disney comics. Perhaps if we wish upon a star, we’ll see a lot more, maybe a resurrection of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories

Walt Disney Comics & Stories No. 715, via the Grand Comics Database
Walt Disney Comics & Stories No. 715, via the Grand Comics Database

Mark Hamill goes to Star Wars Weekends; I go as well

Seven years.

That’s how long it’s been since I last attended Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World.

Thanks to our tax refund check, we bought three-day passes for the Happiest Place on Earth. First came Epcot, then the Magic Kingdom. So for the last day, we would go to Hollywood Studios for one of the Star Wars Weekends.

But which one?

When the folks at Disney announced the guests, I had narrowed down the dates (the tickets expired June 6, so the last weekend was out). Then a special guest was added.

Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker. June 6-8.

Problem solved.

Like many people  who grew up in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Star Wars was a tremendous part of my childhood days. I can remember watching that movie on TV while hoisting my toy X-Wing fighter and re-creating the Death Star trench run. Luke was probably one of my favorite characters, especially when we get to Return of the Jedi and we see Luke go from wide-eyed farm boy to kick-butt Jedi. The scene of Luke looking at the twin sunset on Tatooine gets me every time.

Jump ahead to the early 1990s when Batman: The Animated Series was on TV. Mr. Hamill voiced one of my favorite villains: the Joker. And boy howdy, was he great at it. (He also did a version of this maniacal character as the Trickster in The Flash)

So here was Mark Hamill, making his first appearance at Star Wars Weekends. To miss this would have been like not going after Artoo when he ran off to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. OK, maybe not quite like that, because I don’t think I would have been killed for not going, but still.

Joining me on this journey was my wife and my 4-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. To make things a little more interesting, the 4-year-old was a bit under the weather.  We hoped she would feel better, but she had her moments. Thankfully, she met Sofia the First as well as Jedi Mickey and Princess Minnie without any problems.

We waited in the baking Florida sun for the 11:30 parade to start. I fanned the 6-year-old with a map guide and hid the sun with my Indiana Jones hat. She saw the parade from ground-level, while I snapped pictures of the 501st in their Imperial best.

Then the stars of Star Wars for the weekend came down the road, waving and smiling at the adoring crowd. Appearing were Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, Ray Park, who played Darth Maul, Taylor Gray, the voice of Ezra from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels, James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars,  Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian. And Mark Hamill.

I was in Star Wars heaven.

Later in the day, Taylor interviewed Hamill for a special conversation. We didn’t make it to the theater where it was happening, so we went to the American Idol Experience theater to watch a simulcast. I could almost hear Ryan Seacrest say, “THIS…is a conversation with Mark Hamill!” and Randy Jackson say, “Mark is in it to win it!”

The 500-pound Rancor in the room was brought up right off the bat — Episode VII — but the only thing Hamill talked about was his newly grown beard. He told the audience he liked having surprises walking into a movie instead of knowing everything beforehand. I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir.

Hamill was incredibly funny and gracious during the conversation, which veered from the audition process for the first Star Wars film to doing an impression of Harrison Ford to talking about voiceover acting to giving an impromptu dialogue between the Joker and Luke Skywalker. Classic stuff. (It’s probably up on YouTube somewhere)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hollywood Studios without going on Star Tours. I was especially looking forward to this because I hadn’t gone on the new version of the thrill ride. I was sad to see the old one go, but I’m in love with the new version. But the old one hasn’t completely disappeared. When you walk through the queue and get to the second room, you’ll spot Captain Rex from the original ride sitting in an open cargo crate.

The ride itself: Wow. We ended up in the front row; I was dead center. One of the new things about the ride is the myriad of combinations you’ll experience. We started out in a dogfight along side the Millennium Falcon, flew to Tatooine to find ourselves in a podrace, flew to Geonosis’ asteroid field, only to find ourselves BY THE DEATH STAR. AND it was in 3-D. I wanted to go back on the ride almost immediately. My 6-year-old wouldn’t have been amused with that.

(The Official Star Wars Blog has several in-depth posts about Disney and Star Tours. Go here and here to start with.)

In all, it was a day long remembered at the park.