One Shot: Fantasia (1940)

Perhaps one of the most revered – and, simultaneously, the most forgotten – Disney titles of all time is the 1940 symphonic masterpiece, Fantasia. Featuring some of the most gorgeous, frightening, and imaginative animated sequences ever to come from the studio, and heavily influenced by some of the most incredible classical music pieces of all time, Fantasia is a unique film whose imagery lingers in the mind long after watching it. I often watched this film as a kid, and I still remember the vivid scenes of centaurs, hippos dancing with alligators, leaves spiraling through the air, and the bone-chilling terror of the Night on Bald Mountain segment, with the mountain-dwelling demon Chernabog and a horde of spectral ghosts and ghouls wreaking havoc on a small town.

But the most iconic segment of the film is probably The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Disney’s main mouse, Mickey – and it features the definitive image of the film as a whole.

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In the sequence, apprentice Mickey dons the hat of his master, Yen Sid, and begins to cast magic that he is not quite prepared to handle… and, as magic tends to, matters swiftly go awry. There’s brooms and flooding involved. Even if you’ve never seen the full film, you are probably familiar with this image and know a bit of the story behind it.

This image is what Fantasia means. It’s magic, wonder – and a lesson to be learned. By putting that hat on, Mickey discovers how it feels to create, to be masterful, to have power beyond trudging up stairs carrying water pails. But he neglects the fact that he is not ready to wield that power, and faces the consequences of those actions as he loses control. Just by looking at this image, a viewer can see what Mickey is doing – and knows that an ominous undercurrent weaves beneath the magical glow of that starry cap. He is not big enough to sit in his master’s chair, his robe is too large for his tiny body, and darkness creeps all around him as he does something forbidden… and yet, there remains the shining allure of that magical hat, which he can’t keep his eyes off of. The viewer knows, after seeing this single shot, that they are about to witness a story to remember, and that Disney magic is about to be born, even if our favorite mouse must suffer a bit in order to learn what it means to wrestle with power you aren’t ready for.

Fantasia is a film with animated sequences that evoke feeling without any words – aided only by the sumptuous, classical soundtrack – and this single image is the impetus of a magical journey about to begin. For all the films that have been locked away in the vault, this one shall remain timeless, and should never be forgotten.

Outside Looking In

I feel like every generation has some “fandoms” that, although they can transcend time and appeal to various age groups, are seen almost as a “staple.” But, of course, it’s impossible to involve yourself in all of them. So here are the ones I missed out on, as a millenial growing up in the nineties/2000’s!

1.) The Legend of Zelda
I have, in my twenty seven years on this planet, never played a Zelda game. I was a Sony girl, so I had Playstations growing up – the only Nintendo consoles I owned were the hand-held ones, and I only played them for Pokemon and the occasional KH game or FF remaster. So as far as the fandom goes, I only have basic knowledge, which is one of my greatest shames as a gamer. I do know that the hero is Link, though. I am similarly a novice at most Mario games, but I am a beast at Mario Kart.

2.) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I read about 10 million books in my youth and somehow missed out on this book series. It is the kind of series that is 100% up my alley, so I’m not sure how it flew below my radar. I have since made it a goal to read all of them, because I don’t want to watch the show without having read the books.

3.) Anything on the Disney Channel
Honestly, I didn’t know that Disney Channel was even a thing during my childhood. I was more into Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and only discovered Disney Channel when I stumbled upon a That’s So Raven rerun on TV one day while scrolling through the channels. So, I didn’t know that there were show versions of my favorite Disney movies, like Hercules and Aladdin. I was too busy scaring the pants off of myself watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? By the time I discovered it, I was basically too old to be watching…. though I snuck in a couple of episodes of Suite Life from time to time.

4.) Naruto (and other popular anime)
I was a pretty big weeaboo back in the day, but never got into such titles as Naruto, Death Note, Bleach, or One Piece, just to name a few. This is not to say that I didn’t like these shows – I just didn’t really watch them. I did watch a bit of Naruto and Bleach, and I enjoyed what I saw, but I tend to drop off from titles when they are super long and I’m not completely enthralled by them. This was the era when folks were wearing Naruto headbands to school, so being an anime fan who didn’t watch Naruto was a bit of a stigma. The exception is Death Note, which I did watch in its entirety but I did not quite get the hype as much as some of my friends did. The perfect anime length for me is 26-52 episodes, or 13 episodes, depending on the series. Anything longer tends to be too much for me, though I was hugely into Inuyasha and Sailor Moon.

Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, etc.
Runtime: 1hr52min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

When I first heard that Disney planned to put out a live-action version of the 1941 animated film Dumbo, I – and many others – had reservations. The original Dumbo is a classic, revered for the emotional impact it had on audiences, even though it tells a simple story. However, the addition of Tim Burton as director boosted my hopes, and when I saw the first trailer, featuring Aurora’s haunting rendition of “Baby Mine,” I knew I was going to see it.

In the 2019 remake of Disney’s classic, visionary director Tim Burton re-imagines the beloved big-eared flying pachyderm in his distinct, signature style while retaining the charm of the original and expanding upon powerful themes, though an occasionally wooden screenplay does diminish the film’s “mystique.”

Dumbo_(2019_film)Per usual for Burton’s work, a major strength of the film is the visuals. Brilliant color schemes and gorgeous, intricate sets help create an atmosphere of magic and awe for the circus scenes, and Dumbo himself – though he shares the spotlight with a variety of new characters created for the film – is adorable, with his massive ears and happy squeaks. Though he never speaks, his emotions are clear in his eyes and his expressions and he carries the heart of the film as he soars to the furthest reaches of a star-speckled tent. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman also offers up an incredible score that helps generate a sense of wonder and play homage to themes from the original.

If you’ve never seen the original Dumbo, you were spared the trauma of particularly heartbreaking scenes – which are recreated in this film, and are similarly wrenching. The inclusion of the classic “Baby Mine,” sung by Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney,) certainly tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, and Dumbo’s sorrow radiates off the screen in a way that will probably scar a whole new generation of children.

The cast is spectacular – Farrell as veteran Holt Farrier, a widowed, one-armed father of two bright children and Green’s acrobatic Colette, “Goddess of the Heavens”, are standouts, as are the supporting circus acts and DeVito’s Max Medici, owner of the circus. Keaton is excellent as the smarmy, deviously debonair villain, V.A. Vandemere, and the kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) shine as they support Dumbo, teaching him that his ears can be a blessing rather than a hindrance.

The narrative strives to expand upon the simplicity of the original by introducing new ideas into a basic and straightforward story – and, at times, it shines. Messages about being true to yourself, not letting fear stop you from flying after your dreams, accepting your flaws, etc, are conveyed in a meaningful manner that will hopefully resonate with young audiences. Milly is a logically-minded young heroine who provides a scientific approach to Dumbo’s abilities, and the supporting circus characters all band together to create a compelling idea of a family that is “made,” two ideas that were not present in the original. But, at the core, it’s still a film about an elephant that can fly, which doesn’t get lost in the flurry of new plot-lines. In fact, in the original, Dumbo doesn’t fly until near the end of the film – but viewers don’t have to wait that long this time around.

Also – for those wondering – Burton’s version (obviously) omits the controversial crow characters, “Song of the Roustabouts,” and takes a firmer stance on the treatment of circus animals – all elements of the original film that are, in retrospect, uncomfortable to watch. So, if nothing else, 2019’s Dumbo does offer some much-needed, modern updates.

Obviously, the original Dumbo, with a paltry run-time of 64 minutes, told a story without frills and superfluity. But the 2019 version manages to maintain the core message while introducing new characters and ideas, and Burton achieves a balance that, for the most part, is solid. It doesn’t try to outshine the original, and distances itself enough to avoid unflattering comparisons about which version did what better. However, the dialogue is occasionally clunky, with unnecessary explanations that bog down the film. Many obvious lines could have easily been removed, as they were inferred by a previous thought, or expressed clearly in the character’s visible emotions. With a cleaner, sharper script, the film would have run much smoother – but regardless, it’s still a charming and whimsical ride, and a pleasure to watch.

Of all the Disney films Tim Burton could have re-imagined, the tale of Dumbo, the flying elephant, was a perfect fit for his skills and his vision. It might not have the same simple magic of the 1941 classic, but instead creates it’s own spectacle, with a patchwork crew of misfit characters that all band together around an adorable, beloved, big-eared hero.

 

 Overall rating: 8/10

Hearts, Hearts, My Kingdom for Some Hearts!

My gaming history is not as extensive as some, but, in addition to being a master at the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy (and the Reignited version,) three other prominent series feature in my repertoire. One is Final Fantasy – I have yet to play them all, but X, VIII, and Crisis Core are some of my all-time favorites. I am also a Pokemon master. But the last is Kingdom Hearts, and, since Kingdom Hearts III is FINALLY dropping at the end of the month, I thought I’d make a post about why I love the series so much.

Kingdom Hearts I was released for the PS2 in 2002, when I was ten years old, but I didn’t play it (nor KHII, released in 2005) until around eighth/ninth grade. I remember seeing the commercials for it, though – and being drawn in by Utada Hikaru’s theme song for the original game. Going into it, all I knew was that it combined Final Fantasy-type elements with Disney, an idea that could only have been cooked up by a Square Enix employee and a Disney employee meeting in an elevator.

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I thought it sounded silly – a wide-eyed, big-shoed protagonist named Sora fighting to save Disney-themed worlds from being engulfed in darkness with Donald Duck and Goofy at his side – but eventually picked up the game on special at Game Stop… and that was it. I was hooked from the first opening cinematic.

Now, I made things difficult for myself when I played KH1. I might have skipped over some tutorial stuff… and did not realize you could change your Keyblade until I was battling Ursula. So… yeah. I’m not going to claim to be some expert on the games, but I have since proven to be rather efficient at the series. I’ll admit, I have played, but never beaten, Chain of Memories (both the GBA and PS editions) and 358/2 Days. I hated the battle system in both, so I gave up before finishing them. The only hand-held games I really got into were Birth By Sleep and 3D, both of which I loved. I also own most of the manga series, a figurine, and a couple of blankets with KH designs on them.

50My favorite keyblades are Lionheart, Rumbling Rose, and Stroke of Midnight. My favorite worlds are Neverland (in both Birth by Sleep and the original game) Halloween Town (in both I and II) Space Paranoids from II, Castle of Dreams from Birth By Sleep, and both Prankster’s Paradise and Symphony of Sorcery from 3D. My favorite playable character is Aqua, my favorite villain is Vanitas, and my favorite Disney companions are Peter Pan and Tron, though Beast is a badass too. The boss battle I most struggled with (besides Ursula that first time through) is probably Xaldin, in II. And yes… “JUMP UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK!!!” is probably the most annoying line in the entire series. I have yelled “SHUT UP, PHIL” many, many times at my television screen.

kingdom_heartsThere’s an earnest quality to the Kingdom Hearts games, which is part of what makes it so appealing to me. At it’s core, it’s a story about the power of friendship against the pull of the shadows, of darkness vs. light, and the mottled, massive gray space in-between it all. It’s unabashed fun that doesn’t apologize for being occasionally convoluted, that doesn’t acknowledge how absurd it is to have Squall Leonhart teaming up with Merlin, or Sora rescuing the puppies from 101 Dalmatians from the multicolored mouth of the whale Monstro, of the heroic trio beating Captain Hook in battle, then flying around the face of Big Ben in search of a keyhole. The artwork and character/world design is fantastic across all of the games, and the music is wonderful, combining original themes and Disney scores. Whenever I hear any version of the theme song, my chest swells with excitement, and I go into new Disney films wondering what a Kingdom Hearts version of that world would look like. It has become the series that I have bought entire consoles for – I bought a PSP just for Birth by Sleep.

I haven’t been waiting thirteen years for the next main installment in the series, like many dedicated fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have. Regardless, I cannot wait until the end of this month, where we will finally, after seventeen years, reach the end of the current saga, and the war for Kingdom Hearts reaches a dramatic and conclusive finale.

One Shot #3: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have previously mentioned my enduring love for Tron: Legacy, directed by visionary director Joseph Kosinskibut in case you are unaware, here’s a brief synopsis of my persistent adoration. At one point, I had a Tron wall in my room. I have 2 action figures on my shelf and a glow-in-the-dark Tron Funko Pop. I wrote one of the best academic papers of my life about this film – a 27 page essay entitled “Biodigital Jazz, Man.” I saw it three times in theaters, twice in 3D.

Why does this film resonate with me? To be honest, it’s not the narrative that appeals to me the most. It’s a perfectly serviceable film with great performances and a standard, yet engaging story – and a killer soundtrack. But the aspect I love the most is the visuals. Not only because they are stunning, but because they assist in telling the story and revealing character development and thematic elements MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN. You can quote me on that.

And though I can pick many shots that come to mind when I think of this film, and I can, excuse my French – analyze THE SHIT out of this movie based on a wide variety of stills – this is the most telling shot for me:

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What’s the importance of this shot, you ask – besides the amazing color palette and costumes? It’s visually relaying one of the ideological messages of the film by placing the actors in triangular formation within a scene, almost as a representation of a ‘holy trinity.’ Though this is not the only representation of this in the film, this is the most overt, with Flynn – The Creator – at the center, in an almost godlike position. These images, combined with the fact that Flynn is referred to as “The Creator,” Sam (right) is called “Son of Flynn,” and Quorra (left) is referred to as “The miracle,” help to convey the religious undertones of the narrative in a visual manner. There are other religious and spiritual elements in this film, weaving seamlessly into themes of betrayal, creation, power, and purpose, and each of these three characters assist in the delivery of those messages, which makes placing them in this position all the more telling. It is also indicative of the shifting power structure within the narrative, but I don’t want to delve too deep with that because I’d hate to spill spoilers for a film that came out eight years ago.

And that’s all in one image, folks. This film absolutely nails the “show not tell” idea – a skill that the director carried over to Oblivion, a film I only watched because of him because I don’t like Tom Cruise. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie, I challenge you to do so – and see if you can pinpoint other important “trinities” visually represented in the film, because there are two more that I picked out.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

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Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.