Monday, February 23, 2015

Between Books - Mouse in Transition

I am a big fan of Waking Sleeping Beauty.  But I have yet to pick up a book that covers this era of decline and rise in depth from the animation point of view until now.  Steve Hulett provides readers an inside look at part of this period with his memoir which details the decline of Disney feature animation.

Mouse in Transition: An Insiders Look at Disney Feature Animation by Steve Hulett details the author's tenure as a writer for Walt Disney Productions.  Hulett was hired on, perhaps as a legacy, in the 1970's and continued into the 1980's working on features and other assigned animation products.  Hulett takes her readers through becoming part of the Story team which included veterans who had worked with Walt Disney and new young artists looking to shake things up in what was at times an old boys unit.  Through Hulett's eyes we participate in Woolie Reitherman's marathon (and frustrating) story meetings.  The reader joins Hulett as he collaborates with Ken Anderson on a feature film and learns about Anderson's personal desires and failings.  And Hulett discusses the beginning of the Michael Eisner era as new leadership takes over the House of Mouse.  Eventually Hulett finds himself on the outside of the Disney gates.  The text is full of office politics and personalities as Hulett outlines his good and bad times at the Studio.  The book concludes with appendixes that include Hulett's interviews for a Pinocchio article, the completed article and short biographies of the animation staff he worked with. 

There are several things that Mouse in Transition make clear for me as a reader.   First, it takes a whole village to write a Disney animation feature!  The movies that Hulett discusses in production include The Great Mouse Detective and Fox and the Hound and he talks about his efforts on these films taking what seems like months into years.  But Hulett is also not the only one working on these films, as seen by Reitherman's mammoth story meetings.  And several people contributed to the final stories of the animated films between writers, story artists, directors, producers, animators and the kid in the mail room (okay maybe not him, but remember a lot of staff started in Traffic).  During a strike, Hulett an experienced animation writer attempted to find writing projects in television.  He was denied out of concerns he could not keep to the pace needed on the small screen.  Basically, they worried he could not write quick enough because of the leisurely pace animated features provide.  Second, there was a lot of office politics both before and after Eisner's entry into the House of Mouse.  Some artists like Pete Young became experts on how to balance their own creativity with inter-office squabbles.  Others did not do as well.  But working at Disney with longevity required learning how to play a game that not everyone was up to.

Mouse in Transition: An Insiders Look at Disney Feature Animation by Steve Hulett showcases a Disney animated feature department that has been on the decline.  The price of production had gone drastically up.  The quality of the pictures had become stale.  And a massive change was about to begin as the old guard stepped down for a new wave of artists like John Musker, who wrote the introduction.  Hulett shows his readers the state of a studio in decline.  Sadly for us, Hulett had moved on before his cohorts could fully raise the studio to new heights of creativity under the Eisner leadership.

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cap's Comics - Walt Disney The Black Hole #1

There is part of me that really wishes there was more The Black Hole content out there.  I get excited with rumors about reboots and I really hope that it will happen. In my quest for new related content a friend grabbed me a few comics for me to enjoy that were new to me.

So time travelers set coordinates for January 24, 1980, to pick up the March 1980 cover dated Walt Disney The Black Hole #1.

The USS Palomino searches for life in uncharted space.  While the crew fails to find life, they do find a Black Hole.  The crew is shocked to discover the lost USS Cygnus stationary near the cosmic phenomenon.  The crew board the Cygnus and find that only the leader of the Cygnus' expedition Dr. Hans Reinhardt survives.  The ship is staffed by lifeless androids.  While finding the lost scientist should be a moment of celebration, the crew discover some strange activities upon the vessel including a robot with a limp and a robot funeral.  The story ends with the elderly robot B.O.B. confessing a startling secret to his new friend the robot V.I.N.CENT from the Palomino.   

The story is pretty close to the live-action movie.  And I enjoyed seeing this half of the movie in a new medium.  But, Disney and Whitman must not have been able to get rights to the actor's likenesses.  I thought this might be true when I first saw reporter Harry Booth played by Ernest Borgnine.  The likeness seemed a little off.  But then when we meet Dr. Alex Durant it becomes clear that they really must not have had the rights.  The role was portrayed in the movie by Anthony Perkins.  The comic represents Durant as a curly-haired, mustached, glasses wearing scientist.  Perkins was straight-haired, clean-shaven, and glasses free.  The comic representation honestly looks nothing like Perkins.

It was difficult to uncover who wrote this comic.  But Amazon shows the author as Mary Carey.  I know nothing about Carey, but it becomes clear that she worked with Disney on numerous writing projects.  These works include children's adaptations of Peter Pan, longer prose in text versions of Mary Poppins and even some Duck books.  Basically, while Carey may not have written many comics she did have a lengthy writing relationship with Disney.  The art is by Dan Spiegle, who has illustrated several western, adventure and classics comics.  While the team may not have been marque names, it was one that paired two professionals.  And the adaptation works as a comic.

One of the most interesting things for me about the comic is the publisher.  The title is published under Whitman.  However, the parent company was Western Printing and Lithography Co..  Western had invested $200,000 into a little project of Walt Disney's called Disneyland and owned 13.8 percent  of the park on opening day.  Now, by January 1980, Disney had long bought out Western.  But they still had a healthy business relationship including licensed comics.

I liked Walt Disney The Black Hole #1, if just for the nostalgia factor.  I find msyelf excited about finishing this story.  But I am even more excited about finding out what happens after the adaptation ends!   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Between Books - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Screenplay

When searching the library for something else I stumbled on Captain America: The First Avenger - The Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  And being a guy who loves the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I had to grab this Between Book!

Captain America: The First Avenger - The Screenplay puts the movie's official screenplay in the reader's hands.  The text is a shot for shot script of the movie, complete with traditional screenplay notations.  The story is familiar to anyone who has seen the film, the saga of how Steve Rogers was transformed into Captain America who leads the fight against evil Hydra during World War II.  Along with the script, readers are given storyboards for the "Kruger Chase Scene". 

It is quite an adventure reading a screenplay.  There are a number of notations I had to research such as why were scenes omitted, they were once in drafts of the script but are now removed though a placeholder shows their past existence.  And O.S. meant nothing to me until I through Google learned it was "Off-Screen".  As you can see it is a very different reading experience.  I am very familiar with this story.  So sometimes the lines are not the same as I remember them.  I assume that that in these cases an alternative line was edited into the film that was not included in the script.  I will not say I liked this experience better or worse than reading a typical book, but it is definitely different.

I really read the book to get greater insight into the movie.  One such insight is I have always called Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Bucky and Captain America's other elite fighters the Howling Commandos due to press pieces.  The Howling Commandos traditionally include Dugan and Jones, but in comics are actually related to Nick Fury.  The script never calls them the Howling Commandos, instead they are referred to throughout the screenplay as the Invaders.  The Invaders in comics was Captain America's World War II team that included Bucky but also superheroes such as Namor and the Human Torch.  And I can see how in the script stage that the Invaders would have been a more natural name than Howling Commandos.  Another moment that worked better for me in print is the final crash scene.  There is a moment where you want to say that Rogers did not try very hard.  But the screenplay really does a good job breaking down the options for me.

Another aspect that I found illuminated was how bare a script for a major action movie can be.  The scenes I know are all here.  But background and action sequences are rarely broken into deep detail.  I can now see how important the work of the production staff really is because there is clearly a large amount of conceptual and design work behind the script to make the image a eye popping action romp.

Captain America: The First Avenger - The Screenplay retells a story that many of us know and enjoy.  The screenplay mostly follows the movie that we know.  But it does help fill in some details.  And it leaves some questions, like what cities were omitted from the war bond tour?  Did Cap come to my town?  I totally want to know!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Between Books - Dark Rides Volume One

Do you like Fifty Shades of Grey?  Do you like Disney Parks?  If you answered yes this might be the book for you!

Dark Rides Volume One: Erotic Disney Theme Park Adventures by Blu Carson is a collection of erotic tales which take place in Walt Disney World.  Every story is accompanied by a cocktail recipe to help set the readers mood.  The stories seem to follow Blu Carson has she has intimate adventures within the resort property.  Each tale appears to be focused within specific locations of the park with details of the actual location helping to set the scene for the reader. 

Here is my essential problem, this book is just not relevant to my interest.  From what I saw when I thumbed through it the book appears clear.  But the subject matter, much like that movie/book I mentioned earlier does not catch my fancy.  I am simply a more immature reader, I read a lot of comic books.  And so this this title is not for me.  I think for those who like erotic romance books and Disney parks this will be a winner.  But I honestly did not read enough for me to even give the book a rating.

The book is part of the Bambooniverse.  And a press release notes that Blaine McKinnon appears in the book.  But as the release also notes not everyone who enjoys the Bambooniverse will likely be fans of this edgier offering which has led Bamboo Forest to start a new imprint Dark Rides Press.  And for someone who likes the R rated books from Bamboo Forest, a separate line to help distinguish the rating of the book of R vs NC-17 seems like a helpful tool to help me determine which titles I would be interested in.  

In the end, Dark Rides appears to be a book targeted at Disney fans who enjoy erotic romance literature.  And I think based on the opening of a movie today this book will find an audience.  And for the intended audience the Kindle version priced at $2.99 will likely be a popular pick-up. 

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Monday, February 9, 2015

Between Books - Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him

Sometimes you never know what gem you will find in a volume of Walt's People.  For me my most recent excitement was finding a connection to Disney and the end of the United States Army cavalry.  It is always surprising how a volume of Didier Ghez's edited collection reflects 20th century history and culture in unexpected ways be it the rise of modern media or the World War II home front.

Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney the Artists Who Knew Him edited by Didier Ghez captures snapshots of Disney history from the early days of the studio to the development of Disneyland Paris.  The majority of chapters are oral history interviews with former Disney employees conducted by historians Dave Smith, Bob Thomas, Ghez, John Canemaker, Jim Korkis and more.  The interviews largely are arranged in chronological order.  Interview subjects that will catch the interest of most Disney fans include Alice Davis, Bill Justice, Joe Grant, and Lillian Disney.  But as always the collection also includes largely unknown names.  Along with the interviews are two essays, on Dick Kelsey and Eric Knight, and a collection of letters.  To close the book is additional reference material for those who want to look deeper into the subjects.

One should know that the majority of the book is interview transcripts, not a narrative.  For historians, as I keep saying, this makes these volumes fantastic resources since one can read the actual subjects account in their own words.  Yes at times the memory may have failed some or the interviewee may have remembered something incorrectly.  But the memory is as they recollect it.  For me because of my own interests the interviews that stood out to me were Lillian Disney and Admiral Joe Fowler.  The Disney interview conducted by Michael Broggie discusses Mrs. Disney's marriage to Walt Disney including their courtship.  Though for me what really stood out was the discussion of trains.  A reader discovers that she herself had her own connections to trains, though she largely did not participate in Walt Disney's passion for railroads.  But having Broggie who's father helped Walt Disney build his own backyard train and who himself remembers the Lilly Belle creates an very interesting situation as they reminiscence together about that phase of Walt Disney's life.  Additionally, Mrs. Disney shares with Broggie what her husband thought of Broggie's father Roger.  Being someone who has studied 20th century military history, I found the Fowler interview very interesting.  For me one of the most interesting moments was reading about his post-war position reorganizing the War Department.  As part of this charge, he helped oversee the retirement of the cavalry as a non-essential service.  As someone who has met a former cavalry veteran and visited a museum focused on the horse cavalry, I enjoyed uncovering the surprising connection. 

Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney the Artists Who Knew Him is an essential volume for those who love Disney history (I feel like I have said this before).  The volume captures the words of those who helped create the magic.  Yes, you may read a story you have heard before, like Alice Davis' first meeting with Walt Disney.  But the majority of stories captured include recollections heard less, like why Davis left Disney employment.  Showcasing stories from over 80 years of Disney history including the animation, live-action and the Disney Parks, this volume likely has something that every Disney historian can appreciate.

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mousey Movie Preview - Tomorrowland Big Game Special Look

As a Bronco fan I actually refused to watch this year's "Big Game"(and I think it is silly that basically only the NFL can call it what it is anymore).

But I did make sure to watch the following look at Tomorrowland before the night ended.

I am still really excited.  And I think Disney put out a glimpse that helped move me from curious to excited.

We see a lot of George Clooney and see that he is active, when before we only saw him sitting.

Hugh Laurie's custume makes me wonder if he works at Star Tours!  I joke but it does give me a Tomorrowland vibe.

And this machine with the turning numbers looks cool and has me wondering what it is. 

This May between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Tomorrowland should be a fun month for Disney fans. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Tarkin

Star Wars fans for decades have been fascinated by characters who briefly were seen on screen but left lasting impressions.  Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin like Boba Fett is someone who has long held fan interest.  His appearances on Star Wars: The Clone Wars lead to fan excitement as we could finally see a villain that only appeared in one movie in a new setting.  Now as LucasFilm releases books officially labeled as canon, fans can discover the back story of the architect of the Death Star. 

In Star Wars: Tarkin, James Luceno brings us to five years after the end of the Clone Wars and the establishment of the Empire.  Moff Tarkin has apparently been stationed to a punishment outpost far from the Core Worlds and the seat of power.  But his station is actually contributing to the construction of a mobile battle station.  After an attack on Tarkin's base, he is ordered by the Emperor to join forces with Darth Vader to track down insurgents and punish them for this attack and others.  The story is punctuated by a race as Tarkin and Vader pursue the insurgents through the galaxy as they race from target to target in a ship very familiar to Tarkin with a crew that may be connected to Tarkin's past.  Along with the story sent in the "present", Luceno takes readers into Tarkin's childhood where he learned to hunt and foster fear at his Great Uncle's knee.  Tarkin would take those lessons from the wild into his political and military career becoming a man who used fear as his primary weapon. 

This is really an odd book to read.  You follow along with Tarkin and Vader who are really the bad guys.  The insurgents, fortunately rarely called rebels because then I would feel for them more, are really the bad guys.  The reader knows that Tarkin is the hero of his own story and has to win.  As one pages through the book you also feel little risk for Tarkin or Vader since we are aware of their ultimate fates.  It really does "feel"weird seeing the story from the side of evil.  And when you begin to pull for Vader and Tarkin, you begin to ask yourself about your own motivations.  

The book was really hard for me to get into.  The first 100 pages were very slow for me and it really did not pick up for me until Vader enters the story.  The chase also built up some excitement where at the end of the book I was having a hard time putting it down. But I would not call this my favorite Star Wars book, maybe I would rate it somewhere in the middle of what I have read.  I am pleased to say I borrowed did not buy this book.

You really do get a character study in this book.  Tarkin as a figure has often been lumped with the Death Star and the use of fear.  Tarkin's early life and education was based around using fear to dominate prey.  And his military career as we see played out relies on fear to defeat threats (or prey).  We come to understand that in Star Wars he desired to use the Death Star on a live target with purpose.  And it did have to be on a populated and well traveled world.  News had to spread.  He did not necessarily harbor evil thoughts towards those he killed.  No, he saw the demonstration of force as a way to create order.  And for him the cost was justifiable.  He would not see himself as evil, but instead as one enforcing peace through force.  The galaxy needed to know the Death Star existed and could be used. 

One of the lingering questions is did Tarkin know who Darth Vader was?  In this book, Vader dislikes Tarkin as their mission starts.  In fact he must be ordered to partner with him.  Tarkin and Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader's given birth name, were close as seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  But Tarkin's role in the trial of Skywalker's Padawan poisoned the relationship.  Tarkin does not know for sure who is under the mask.  Vader does not confide in him.  But Tarkin begins to make an educated guess.  He notices that Vader and Skywalker used the same strategies, flawed ones in Tarkin's book.  And both have the same lightsaber fighting style.  So while this book does not make the pair close friends with long histories, Tarkin is beginning to realize who is wearing the cape. 

Speaking of Darth Vader, we get new pieces of canon to add to his biography.  First, Vader is considered unnaturally attached to his stormtroopers.  And Vader uses a special kind of trooper that goes back to the Clone Wars.  This makes sense after watching him as a General in the Clone Wars, one who was beloved by his men because of how he treated them.   Though for some reason one of his Stormtroopers seems to have a rank change from enlisted to officer without explanation.  Perhaps the editor lost track of his rank!  Second, Vader like Anakin rushes to action.  Sometimes action pays, sometimes it does not.  

Star Wars: Tarkin is for the hardcore Star Wars fans.  General fans of the movies can likely skip over this book unless like me they grab it as a borrow.  Tarkin is someone of interest, but he is not Han, Luke or Leia.  And perhaps it is the big three which a general reader would need to get through the first 100 pages and technical speak of this book set a galaxy far away.