Tag Archives: disney

DuckTales Premiere “Woo-oo”

ducktales_2017_by_xeternalflamebryx-db1zb8bWhen Disney set out to reintroduce DuckTales to a new generation of youngsters they clearly decided the most enduring legacy of the late 1980s cartoon series was its catchy theme song. Penned by Mark Mueller and covered in exhausting detail in a new Vanity Fair piece, the DuckTales theme has remained a unifying force of nostalgia for those who heard and watched cartoons during its run. It’s upbeat, poppy, and entrancingly catchy qualities are essentially the one aspect of the old cartoon preserved almost exactly for this new edition of DuckTales. Sure, it’s now sung by Felicia Barton and that final verse is altered ever so slightly, but it’s relatively unchanged from its origins and it still rocks.

The theme has been a central part to the advertising blitz laid out by Disney which seems to know it has something in DuckTales. So confident is the sense coming from the company that it’s a wonder this wasn’t attempted sooner. Is there something magical about waiting for the 30th anniversary of the original program as opposed to the 10th or 20th? Or have we just arrived at a moment in time technologically speaking where this show can be done at a reasonable cost without resorting to the 3D computer-generated imagery of many of Disney’s modern cartoons? Whatever the reason, the song appeared in a quick teaser for the show last year along with the unmistakable “Yeah!” of Donald Duck. The new cast was introduced via a YouTube video where they all sing the song with great exuberance and some pretty impressive timing. And why not? The song is perhaps the best cartoon theme ever concocted and should be leaned upon heavily to bring this franchise back.

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The money bin is still a thing, and looks to be harder to penetrate this time around.

And DuckTales is indeed back. Saturday August 12th marked the debut for the new series, and much like its predecessor, it debuted with an hour long special. Disney XD was the chosen landing spot and the entire day’s programming has been dedicated to airing the new episode of DuckTales, titled “Woo-oo”, for the entire duration of the day. It’s a bold way to announce a new show and it will also be streaming on Disney’s websites and apps presumably until the show’s re-debut in September.

Resurrecting a beloved franchise isn’t easy and often thankless. Fanbases seem to become increasingly protective of that which they love as time marches forward and the slightest change can cause the biggest disruptions. Perhaps that’s why the show has felt so secretive with Disney waiting what felt like an eternity before showing off even a still image from the show. In general, it seems most took the show’s new look with enthusiasm. Scrooge now sports his traditional red coat from the comics from which he first made his name. The show is presented in 2D as opposed to 3D, and all of the familiar faces are still there. The children have received a makeover, as expected, but they don’t feel as forced as the ones the nephews got for the short-lived Quack Pack program in which Disney seemed to be forcing teenaged culture into the show in a mostly unauthentic fashion. The show also promised to send its cast on more timeless adventures, seeking treasure and uncovering all manners fantastic all while maintaining not just the spirit of the original toon, but those Carl Barks stories as well.

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Expect to see some old foes pop-up eventually.

Naturally, some voices had to change as well and Disney kept its casting decisions under wraps for some time. Alan Young was basically the only Scrooge my generation knew, but Father Time made sure it wouldn’t be possible for him to continue the role for the new series (RIP). David Tennant has brought his Scottish charm to the new series. His Scrooge is a lot more youthful sounding, but comes across as authentic and dashing and I think it’s a voice that will suit him. Terry McGovern, who voiced Launchpad McQuack in the original series as well as in Darkwing Duck, lobbied hard for the role here but was passed over in favor of Beck Bennet. Bennett is fine, and I understand the feeling in the building that this should be a new show for a new generation, but Bennett basically sounds like he’s doing his best McGovern impression which makes me wonder what’s the point in re-casting him? The nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie have unique voice actors for really the first time in their existence in Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan. I’ll miss the adorable duck voice of Russi Taylor, but I can’t argue against the decision to make the nephews feel like distinguishable characters from one another. It used to be that only the color of their shirt differentiated one from the other, but in this series all three have their own unique personality. It seems like Huey will be the boy scout, Dewey the crafty trouble-maker, and Louie more of a laid back sort. Kate Micucci is Webby, who too seems like she’ll have a more pronounced character other than girl duck. Mrs. Beakly has perhaps received the most pronounced makeover as she’s gone from grandma-like in appearance to a hulking behemoth. She’s voiced by Toks Olagundoye and I’m curious to see what kind of backstory has been crafted for her to explain this brawny physique. Last, but certainly not least, is Donald Duck voiced by the irreplaceable Tony Anselmo. Donald was reduced to a cameo role for the original DuckTales due in part to Disney being sensitive about using its classic characters for TV and over concerns of his sometimes unintelligible speech pattern. Thankfully Donald has been restored to full-time cast member as he was in the comics and DuckTales 2017 already has a huge leg-up over the original.

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Donald and his nephews have a very hum-drum sort of existence when the show opens.

The premiere opens with Donald and his nephews aboard a houseboat that they apparently live on. It’s seen better days, and Donald is preparing for a job interview. When he realizes he can’t leave his nephews home alone, he decides to ask his estranged uncle for a favor. We find Scrooge in a state of depression as his life has become rather mundane and unexciting. He’s still fabulously wealthy, but doesn’t appear to be living a truly rich life. He and Donald had an unexplained falling out and their first encounter in many years is hardly warm and fuzzy. Still, Scrooge agrees to help out his nephew by watching his grand-nephews, who before today had no idea they were related to the famous Scrooge McDuck. They think they’re meeting a great adventurer, but are pretty disappointed in what is presented to them. They soon meet Webby, the grand daughter of Mrs. Beakly who lives with Scrooge and takes care of the household. Webby is starved for adventure and her sheltered life in the mansion appears to be driving her a little crazy. The boys and Webby make some fun discoveries while poking around the mansion, which helps to bring out Scrooge’s adventurous side. Meanwhile, Donald gets his job, but his new employer is going to cause some problems for his uncle. Everyone ends up on a collision course for Atlantis, the adventure is appropriately grand.

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Scrooge will have no shortage of enemies and challengers to his title of World’s Wealthiest Duck.

Right off the bat I find myself in love with the visual style of DuckTales. There’s a very Barksian quality to the look of the show with some of the images appearing very influenced by Barks’ later works of art. The animation is undoubtedly done on a computer, whether it’s done South Park style by creating 2D models that are animated or if they’re hand-drawn onto computer tablets I do not know, but it does work. It’s not stiff and it’s not lazy and it doesn’t really look like anything else on television right now. Scrooge warms up to his adventuring lifestyle pretty fast, but it’s fun so I’m not going to quibble with a fast-moving plot. The adolescents are convincing and there is room for exploration with all of them. Mostly, of course, I really am fascinated by this Donald Duck. He possesses his trademarked short temper, but it also appears he’ll be the voice of reason in the group who at least tries to keep everyone in check. It’s a role Donald has really never served on film and it will be a lot of fun exploring this rarely seen side of an 80 year old character. The easter eggs and callbacks are also handled as well as fan-service can be with only one line spoken by a reporter sounding forced, but I won’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy it. And I really loved the reveal at the very end of the episode, which I won’t spoil here, as it seems to suggest this version of DuckTales will have something very new to explore.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on this new version of DuckTales. I may have done things a little differently if given the chance, but I can’t deny the finished product looks and feels great. This show has a lot of potential and something about the way it’s being marketed just exudes an infectious amount of confidence in the material that’s very reassuring. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun stuff to look forward to on the horizon, with other Disney Afternoon properties even rumored to resurface. Whether you loved the original series or never watched it, I encourage you to check out DuckTales as this looks like it’s going to be a really fun ride.


12 Films of Christmas #8: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? Can a film be both? That seems to be the big question surrounding Tim Burton’s multi-holiday classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Released on Disney’s Touchstone label (because the company was too scared to be directly associated with the film at first) around Halloween 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been content to be accepted by both holidays, but lets not kid ourselves, it’s a Christmas movie.

It’s right there in the title! The Nightmare Before Christmas! The tale about how the fictional residents of Halloweentown usurped the Christmas holiday from Santa Claus for their very own. It’s a Christmas movie that looks like a halloween one, and it’s been charming audiences for decades now through its unique visual style and stop-motion animation. And that animation, even that screams “Christmas” thanks to holiday classics synonymous with the genre like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Henry Selick directed picture (which can’t be said enough since so many still mistakenly attribute the film’s direction to Tim Burton) leans heavy on its visual and theatrical elements so much that I can’t help but wonder if it was traditionally animated if it would have the same impact.

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The one and only, Jack the Pumpkin King!

The stop-motion style proves ideal in crafting a character such as Jack Skellington, the spindly skeleton suffering a severe case of seasonal depression, or midlife crisis if that’s possible for someone undead. His movements aren’t always fluid, but still seem appropriate given how we can practically see his various joints. Some creative liberties were taken with his head-sculpt which is soft, and round as opposed to resembling an actual skull. Some of the denizens of Halloweentown are rather unremarkable to behold, but all fit into the film’s visual style.

The film is a unique and visual treat, and the very Burton voice cast (featuring frequent collaborators like Paul Reubens, Catherine O’Hara, and Danny Elfman) is more than up for the challenge of bringing these characters to like. The film’s score, provided by Elfman, is fantastic and manages to capture the feeling of both Halloween and Christmas all in one. The broadway styled bits are where the film falters slightly, and what holds it back from being ranked alongside some of the Disney films from the same decade. Still, The Nightmare Before Christmas has its share of memorable tunes and can easily be sung along to.

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Everyone’s favorite trick or treaters. Or least favorite since they are little punks.

I did a full review of this film a few years ago, which is why this entry has chosen to focus on what makes the film unique among other Christmas films. Don’t fret too much over which holiday the film best aligns itself with, just use that as an excuse to watch the film around both holidays. It’s always worked in my household.


12 Films of Christmas #11: The Santa Clause

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The Santa Clause (1994)

A successful formula for any would-be Christmas film to adopt is that of shining a new light on the character of Santa Claus. Anytime a film can make Santa more believable to the viewer is usually something worthy of exploration. A lot of films, books, and other media have attempted to add to the Santa mythos which mostly originated in the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the ones that have done it the best are the most memorable.

The Santa Clause is just such a picture which set out to answer many of the questions children have about the character. For the life of many a youngster, Santa is someone believed in without question at first. After all, who wants to have doubts about a nice guy who leaves you presents for just being a good boy or girl (with the “good” part being highly subjective and a very low bar to clear)? As adolescents get older, they naturally become more inquisitive and thats when the questions about Santa Claus start to show up. How do reindeer fly? How can one man visit every kid on earth in a single night? How does he fit all of those toys in his sleigh?

The Santa Clause actually has one answer for just about every question a kid could have about Santa:  magic. It’s a rather easy explanation, but given the unbelievable nature of the character it’s often the best we have. The Santa Clause, in typical 90’s fashion, relies upon visual effects to make these answers entertaining beyond the whole “it’s magic, stupid!” Like many films from that era, the effects have not aged as well as maybe was expected.

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Charlie and Scott take Santa’s sleigh for a spin after accidentally killing him. Not many Christmas movies begin by killing Santa.

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a toy developer with a son who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Charlie, played by Eric Lloyd, has been lead to believe by his mother Laura (Wendy Crewson) and step-father Neil (Judge Reinhold) that Santa is not real, which naturally irritates Scott. Scott is a bit of an absentee father, partly because of the divorce, and because he works a lot. Charlie doesn’t have much faith in his father, and he clearly dreads spending Christmas Eve with his old man. Not much goes right, but Scott does succeed in restoring his son’s faith in Santa, and himself, when the real Santa falls off his roof to his own demise and Scott, unwittingly, picks up the mantle for himself.

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Scott unwillingly morphing into Santa. I’d probably freak out if my kid tried to sit on that guy’s lap.

Scott’s first adventure as Santa is when we get to see the magic at work. Scott and the audience share in the experience as neither knows how any of this stuff is supposed to work – Santa can’t really be real, can he? When Scott picks up an empty sack, presents appear inside. It hovers and directs him to a chimney to slide down. When no chimney exists, a septic exhaust is used and a fireplace magically appears inside the house. I remember these effects delighting my family and I when the film first came out, but viewed at now they do leave something to be desired. The illusion isn’t destroyed, but parents showing this one to their modern kids may be disappointed in their reaction.

The rest of the film mostly takes place after Christmas as we lead-up to the next one. No one believes Charlie’s account of what happened, which causes his mother and step-father to think Scott is brainwashing the kid and to seek sole custody. Meanwhile, Scott is physically transforming into Santa whether he likes it or not (he read the Santa Clause after the first one died, and apparently he would need a really good attorney to get out of it) which only strengthens his ex-wife’s argument for sole custody. This makes Laura (Charlie’s mom) and Neil the villains of the film, even if they’re only looking out for Charlie. It’s a Christmas movie, so everything comes together at the end, but this is one of those plots where the viewer knows what really happened and has to be frustrated by the actions of those who aren’t in the know.

Tim Allen is essentially allowed to be himself in his role as Scott Calvin/Santa Claus. He’s basically no different than Tim Taylor from Home Improvement, and even does his trademarked grunt at one point in the film. How much you like the film will probably hinge on your affection for Allen. I think I mostly liked him when I was younger, but the years haven’t been kind to Allen’s style of humor. I find him irritating in many scenes now, and his punchlines are often punch-less. As an adult, I find myself identifying more with the stiffs around him than the Scott character. He’s not all bad, but I hesitate to call his performance a strength.

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By the film’s conclusion Scott is all-in on this Santa thing.

The other aspect of this film that annoys me is the end, and to some degree, the Charlie character. The end of the film just goes on way too long and we’re kind of done with the Christmas cheer before Charlie starts shaking his snow globe. The Charlie character also can’t help but be annoying throughout the picture. Some of his actions are defensible, because he’s a kid, others are not and seem to betray the intelligence we see out of Charlie in other parts. By and large, Lloyd is a pretty good actor, but the director asks him to get sad and cry at one point which he clearly wasn’t up to the task for.

The Santa Clause is still recent enough to be considered modern, and it can probably be described as a modern classic. It brings enough to the table as far as a Santa story goes (even if parts of the plot mirror the Flintstone’s Christmas Special) to be memorable. If you’re easier on the effects and overall 90’s look and style of the picture (I for one, find the techno-junk look of Santa’s sleigh off-putting) then you probably like this film a lot more than I do. And if you’re a fan of Tim Allen, then it might even be your favorite Christmas movie.


The 12 Films of Christmas #12: The Muppet Christmas Carol

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The bare minimum a Christmas television special or film can do to inject some Christmas cheer is to do an adaptation, or parody, of a popular public domain Christmas treasure like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In general, these are lazy and trite and form the foundation of the worst holiday dreck imaginable. Just tune into the Hallmark Channel at this time of year to find several variations on familiar stories, all of which bring nothing to the table other than sentimentality. So it is with some trepidation that I include one such work in this 12 Films of Christmas featurette, but hear me out.

The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine and those wonderful puppets manages to be a worthwhile endeavor not because it does anything to shake up a familiar story, but because it tells that story with the charm and wit of The Muppets. When it comes to these types of Christmas stories, we likely all have our preferred vehicle of delivery. For me personally, it’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol which is one of my favorite holiday shorts. If I’m going to go feature-length though, I’m likely to turn to The Muppets if I want to hear about old Scrooge.

Caine stars as main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his supporting cast is made up of mostly Muppets. Kermit is his foil as the poor, but kind-hearted, Bob Cratchit and Robin stands in for Tiny Tim. That makes Miss Piggy Emily Cratchit, naturally. Stadler and Waldorf play the Marley brothers and are predictably hilarious in their role. Gonzo and Rizzo the rat are used as narrators and exist outside the story, despite occupying a physical presence on screen. They’re the main source of the physical comedy and the film made a star out of Rizzo, a mostly bit part in Muppet films and television specials prior to this. Fozzy, Animal, Beaker, and all of the other familiar gang show-up for spot roles throughout. The Muppets are all playing the role of someone from the original work, but still possess their own personality and character traits. In other words, Fozzy is still Fozzy even if his character is referred to by another name.

 

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Michael Caine is a natural at playing alongside the Muppets.

Caine is relied upon to carry the picture and act convincingly beside his non-human cast mates. For roles that correlate directly to Scrooge, a human actor is cast so it’s not as unbelievable as it could have been. For instance, Isabelle is played by Meredith Braun and Scrooge’s nephew Fred by Steven Mackintosh. Only Caine is really asked to do any heavy lifting and he’s surprisingly emotive and effective as a Scrooge. There may have been some expectations that a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol would just be a straight comedy, but the film doesn’t shy away from the dramatic moments. In fact, it probably does so to its detriment as the film sometimes spreads the laughs out too far apart. Some plodding occurs during Scrooge’s journey that likely will turn off younger viewers, and even some older ones. The redemptive portion of the film also feels rushed and the audience is denied in savoring Scrooge’s turn at the end. Perhaps this was done to keep the film under a 90 minute runtime, but if that was the goal, then other parts of the film should have been trimmed instead to allow more time for the fun at the end.

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Rizzo and Gonzo are the true show-stealers in this picture as the duo is easily responsible for the most laughs.

From a production standpoint, the film is a true star as the sets, puppets, and costumes all look fantastic. It’s obviously no surprise that a Muppets work would come out looking so well. The production department did a great job in giving the film a true big screen feel when compared with the various TV properties of the Muppets and their made for TV films. The film is in part a musical, like most Muppet productions, and the songs are actually on the light side. I personally consider that a positive, but others may not feel the same way.

In the end, The Muppet Christmas Carol succeeds because it brings its own heart and spunk to a dated work. Other films, like Disney’s A Christmas Carol, just try to retell the same story and possess no charm, and ultimately have no real reason to exist. At least with The Muppets you’re getting that Muppet brand of humor to add a dash of color to A Christmas Carol, ultimately making it worth your time each holiday season.


Lego: Disney’s Cinderella Castle

disney-lego-castle-5This past spring Lego released its third line of mini figures to be based on an official license. Following two straight years of The Simpsons, Lego turned to Disney and its cast of classic characters. Going with a mix of old school, Pixar, and movie characters not touched by the existing Lego Disney Princess line, the line appeared to sell really well for Lego and the likelihood of future releases for the license seemed almost certain. I reviewed those figures back when they came out, and in that review I mentioned my desire to see Lego tackle some famous Disney World and Disneyland attractions, specifically Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. Ask and you shall receive, as it wasn’t too long after the fact that Lego did indeed announce such a set was coming late in the summer.

Now, my wife is a Disney fanatic. She loves Disney and going to the park, so much so that I made sure I proposed to her in front of the imposing castle. Considering I purchased myself a pair of Simpsons sets and a Ghostbusters Firehouse, I kind of owed it to her to get this set as well. It arrived at the end of August, but since we were in the middle of moving to a new house, construction did not commence until the first week of September. After a fairly leisurely build schedule, we completed this masterpiece over the weekend and both my wife and I are quite pleased with the results.

First and foremost, this set is large and expensive. It retails for $350, which seems to be the going rate for 4,000+ piece sets based on a licensed brand. It’s the same price as the Ghostbusters set, and comparable to some Star Wars sets as well (though cheaper than the upcoming Death Star re-release). Disney is likely not a cheap license to acquire, so there was little sticker shock for me, as much as I hate to spend that kind of money on what ends up being a big plastic, sculpture of sorts. Compared to the firehouse, it’s probably a lesser value. The piece count is comparable, but many of the pieces to the castle are of the smaller variety. It’s been many years since I last built a Lego castle of any kind, but I’m left to believe there are a fair amount of unique pieces to this set, which is obviously a factor in cost. There is minimal use of stickers, which is something any expensive set should be trying to achieve. All of the stickers felt reasonable to me as they’re basically confined to the outer brick detail for the wall (which are simple to place), three shields that adorn the main hall, and a single mirrored sticker for, naturally, a mirror. There are some printed pieces that, in a lesser set, could have opted for stickers instead.

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A look at The Royal Suite. Below it is where Mickey hides his sorcerer garb and above it is the domain of the Evil Queen.

The mini figure count is where this set may come up short for some. The Ghostbusters set came with 9, and even the Kwik-E-Mart came with 6. Cinderella’s Castle comes with 5, four of which are re-releases with one being unique to the set. Of the four, Donald Duck is the only one who is identical to the mini figure released a few months back. It always disappoints me when a toy line repeats a figure within a set. It would have been easy enough to re-color Donald as he sometimes sports a white cap instead of a blue one. Or even just lighten the color of his shirt, or gone with a full reprint of his body to match one of his many Disney World attires. Both Daisy and Minnie are re-colored versions of their previous release. Daisy has a pink color scheme while Minnie is in her more traditional red and white polka-dot attire. Mickey is the only one getting a whole new outfit as he’s in his park-appropriate tuxedo. Tinker Belle is the new addition, and she fits in with the previously released Peter Pan and Captain Hook and also makes sense as she’s pretty central to the various Disney World ceremonies centered around the castle. Disappointingly, she does not come with a flight “peg” like the ghosts did with the firehouse making it hard to find a fun place to pose her on the castle. As a figure, her likeness is well-done and includes two wands, wings, a hair piece, and a fabric skirt. In addition to those five figures, there’s also two sets of display armor for the interior of the castle that are essentially mini figures with all black heads.

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A closer look at the infamous mirror. Below is a chest containing her spell components with the fireworks shooter behind.

Building the castle is a pretty painless experience. There’s some very large pieces composing the outer wall area which makes that fairly simple. As you start to move up the castle and towards the towers, more small pieces are introduced and there are some tedious spots. The numerous little white accents you see along the top of the walls and around the towers can drive you mad if you’re insistent about making sure everything is perfectly square. Some of those pieces are anchored by solid bricks behind them, while others are on blue pegs. Those ones have a tendency to swing and I found them irritating. Other places, like around the front clock above the main door, are resting as opposed to being snapped in tight which is something I do not care for. I want everything on a Lego set to be as solid as possible, and the only resting items should be the kind that need to be easily removed like the roof on a house. The set builds basically in three parts:  the outer wall and main hall, the base of the tower, and the tallest main tower itself. The last step in the process is putting all three together and they go together very simply. In total, there are 14 steps in the instruction booklet and there are quite a few leftover pieces when complete. Mostly, they’re small pieces that could be easily lost or overlooked while there are a couple of spare accessories, like a second pair of shears and a sword. I did notice at least one printing error in the booklet where some of the necessary parts for one step are not included in the parts summary at the top of the page. They’re mistakenly included in the following step, even though the graphic for placing them is on the previous step. It’s an easily catchable error as the parts are a couple of traditional bricks, but just be on the lookout (I think it was part of step 11 or 12).

For Disney fans, building the castle offers other rewards beyond the simple satisfaction of construction as the set is loaded with numerous easter eggs. One of the earliest in the build process is the magic carpet from Aladdin being draped on a wall with the Genie’s lamp included as well. The enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast receives its own room with a familiar looking candelabra looking on. The menacing spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty is present, as well as the apple for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One of my favorites, is a stash of objects from Cinderella hidden under a steeple at the base of the tower which includes her famous glass slipper. There’s also a main suite, which I assume is to represent the actual Royal Suite from the actual castle in Disney World, as there’s nothing obvious within the room to tie it to a film. There’s also a kitchen which could be a stand-in for numerous films (the cleaver on the wall makes me think of Louie from The Little Mermaid) while there’s also an archery set atop the main wall in front of the tower. The included booklet connects that Merida from Pixar’s Brave, but I prefer to think of it as a an homage to Robin Hood, since everything else appears connected to a classic Disney film. There’s a fireworks shooter towards the top of the tower which is another connection to the actual tower in Disney World. By far though, my favorite is the room towards the middle of the set which features Mickey’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as well as a couple of buckets and mops and a spell book for good measure. Sadly, the hat does not fit on the Mickey mini figure.

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High above where Tinker Belle dwells. I wish it came with a piece to simulate her flying around the tower.

When all is said and done, you’re left with a pretty imposing looking structure. It’s easily the tallest Lego structure I own and I assume it ranks among the tallest the company has ever produced. The likeness to the actual building is pretty impressive, though it’s certainly possible to nit-pick the Hell out of it. The open design on the back means it really only displays from the front. I don’t know if a clamshell design was considered, but it definitely would have added a considerable amount of pieces and complexity to the set. I’m guessing Lego chose to prioritize the front and making sure the size of the set felt appropriate for such an iconic landmark. I would also assume that, even though the box suggests this is for teens and adults, this castle has a lot of playability for a child given all the rooms and accessories. I wish the previously released mini figures supplemented it a little better, but the Disney Princess line obviously would fit in well and it’s a significant upgrade over that line’s Cinderella’s Castle.

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The finished product. It’s hard to get the whole thing in frame.

Where will Lego take Disney next? Given that The Simpsons received two waves of mini figures, I’ve been assuming Disney would too. There’s a more obvious fit between Disney and Lego than there was with The Simpsons so maybe this could continue for awhile. Even if Lego chooses not to devote entire lines of mini figures to the brand, there’s still a wealth of potential sets from the parks themselves. Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland seems like an obvious potential candidate, while Main Street USA would fit in with this set. If they wanted to do something different but also tie it to a park, Mickey’s Fun Wheel from California Adventure would be another attractive piece for Disney enthisiasts to display. It’s fun to speculate but even more fun to build, so I hope the line continues beyond this set, even if my wallet does not.


Disney gets the Lego Treatment

maxresdefault-3Lego is one of the most popular toy manufacturers on the planet. They’ve become known for their building block style toys that come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and can be combined to form castles, pirate ships, space crafts, and other fantastic designs. They also have struck gold with their mini figures, simplistic action figures that embody the Lego design and make great pilots, captains, and heroes to pair with the various sets. It used to be you had to buy a construction set to get a figure or two, but for several years now Lego has capitalized on the appeal of its mini figures by releasing them individually in blind bag assortments. Even more recently, Lego has decided to apply a popular license for these blind bag releases. For the past two years, that license was The Simpsons. I was rather fond of this decision and really it got me back into Lego after not buying a set since I was a kid. The Simpsons I feel still had legs and a series three would have been welcomed by me, but Lego has apparently killed that line and decided to go with a new license:  Disney.

Theming a line of figures on the Disney license is almost as broad as creating a line of “People” figures. The Walt Disney Company has been putting out animated and live action films for nearly a century. The company has its own television station full of original programming, plus it owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and ABC to name a few. And since Lego already makes Star Wars and Marvel sets, it stands to reason that their Disney themed wave of mini figures could include those franchises if it wanted to. What it really means for Lego is that its first wave of Disney mini figures is an amalgamation of a few popular Disney properties. The first set of 18 Disney figures contains popular Disney creations like Mickey Mouse and Donald, characters from classic animated films like Aladdin and Peter Pan, and also a few Pixar figures to round things out. There are likely fans out there who would have preferred it if Lego stuck to the classic animated films, or maybe even just the Mickey and friends line, but Lego opted to try to please a wide consumer base.

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A motley crew of Disney plastic.

As someone who likes Disney and is married to a woman who LOVES Disney, it meant i had to collect this line with the same vigor as I did with The Simpsons. The wave hit retail on May 1st, though a few lucky individuals probably found them earlier. Like other mini figure waves, this series is released in blind bags so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re buying, unless they’re willing to sit and prod at each bag to feel the figure out. As Lego did with The Simpsons, they’ve chosen to make custom head sculpts for a lot of the Disney characters, basically all of the non-humanoid ones. That means finding Mickey and Minnie when groping a plastic bag is actually pretty easy, same for Sticth as well as the ducks, Donald and Daisy. I actually found the entire wave pretty easy to feel out and went a perfect 18 for 18 with my purchases. Now, if only I had better luck at finding the figures at big box retailers. Stores like Target and Toys R Us sell each figure for 3.99 a piece, but I got stuck hitting up specialty shops that charged 6.99. The things I do for love.

 

Unlike The Simpsons, these Disney figures are not released alongside any standard Lego sets, which is a bummer. Lego does have a line of Disney centric Lego Friends sets which focus on the various princess characters. The Friends line is Lego’s girl line, because apparently girls can’t handle traditional mini figures and bricks, and it’s clear Lego avoided duplicating characters it had already released as part of that line. The set of 18 is mostly free of the princess characters, with the exception of a mermaid Ariel. Alice from Alice in Wonderland is also included, but I don’t think she’s ever been considered a “princess.” From the Mickey and Friends collection, we have Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. Any Disney fan immediately sees that list and says “Where’s Goofy?!” He’s missing in action here. The four who are included look pretty good though. Donald and Daisy even have a little duck “butt” piece which is pretty funny but also pragmatic. Mickey is kind of dull though as he comes with no unique pieces or accessories. He doesn’t even have a tail! That’s a problem I’ll address later as it’s a recurring problem. Not the tail, but the lack of accessories to go along with these figures.

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Ursula’s got it going on.

From the Disney animated classics group of films, there’s the following:  Alice, Cheshire Cat, Maleficent, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Stitch, Ursula, Ariel, Aladdin, and the Genie. All are done fairly well, though characters like Aladdin and Pan suffer from being a bit too conventional and kind of boring in appearance. Genie suffers a little in that he’s fairly unique, but the efforts made to convey that don’t work so well. Instead of getting a more unique sculpt, he’s actually a standard mini figure with add-on pieces to round out his look. He does have a “ghost” lower body which is kind of neat, but he still doesn’t really look all that much like the Genie from Aladdin. Plus Lego got really cheap with his gold cuffs and only painted half of his wrist. Maleficent is unique in that she doesn’t have legs, but a triangular block for a base to simulate her robes. It works pretty well as a visual, though it’s probably not fun for kids to play with. Ursula is definitely the cream of the crop as she gets a uniquely sculpted lower body that looks great. Ariel does as well, but her tail is rather blocky and unappealing to look at. I get that Lego is supposed to be blocky, but there’s just something off with Ariel’s look.

 

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The piece Lego fanatics have been waiting years for:  duck butt.

Pixar is also featured, albeit in a minor way. There aren’t many Pixar characters that would work as Lego mini figures, but Lego did pick some suitable ones. From Toy Story, there’s Buzz Lightyear and the Alien, and from The Incredibles we have Mr. Incredible and his foe Syndrome. Buzz is the star of the four. While he doesn’t quite look like the Buzz we know and love, the unique pieces included give him a lot of personality. The Alien gets a unique head sculpt and looks fine, while Mr. Incredible and Syndrome look about as good as they can, though they’re a little boring. I don’t dislike any of the four, and actually really like Buzz, but I am left wishing Lego had stuck with more conventional Disney properties and gave Pixar its own wave.

 

With any release like this, it’s easy to zero in on what’s missing. Properties like Pinnochio, Snow White, and The Lion King are synonymous with Disney but not represented here. There’s also a lack of quality accessories that’s kind of disappointing. Mickey comes with none, when he should come with Pluto. He could have come with some clothing type accessories like his sorcerer’s hat, something which is better than nothing. Ursula comes with King Triton’s trident but not his crown, and Ariel comes with an oyster shell with a pink jewel in it. Maybe I need to watch The Little Mermaid again because I don’t remember that amongst her many treasures. I’d rather she come with a fork, I mean, dinglehopper, though a Flounder would have been better. Stitch, Cheshire Cat, and the Alien all come with no accessories, and Aladdin and the Genie both come with the same lamp. Couldn’t Aladdin at least have come with a black Jafar’s lamp? These figures aren’t really all that cheap, the least Lego could do is make sure each character has at least one appropriate accessory to round them out.

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Pan looks kind of bloodthirsty, not that Hook looks like any less of a maniac.

Criticisms aside, I do think this is a pretty solid wave of mini figures and a nice start for the Disney line. I assume there will at least be a wave two and I’m hopeful Lego will explore some Disney sets, especially if they’re based on Disney World or Disneyland. As far as a potential wave 2 is concerned, I would assume some characters are no-brainers. Goofy, Woody, and Jessie seem like locks. Near locks would include Mrs. Incredible, Frozone, and Jafar. If Lego really wants to stick with the films its already touched upon, then characters like King Triton and the Queen of Hearts certainly have a shot as well. I’m hopeful that Pinnochio and Jiminy Cricket get a look, and a Beast and Gaston would be pretty awesome. It’ll probably be nearly a year before we know what’s to come, but until then it will be fun to speculate.

UPDATE:  Well it took Lego a few months to unveil it, they did indeed confirm a Lego version of Disney World’s iconic Cinderella Castle is coming this September. It will retail for $350 (ouch!) and total over 4,000 pieces and come bundled with 5 mini figures. Making her traditional Lego debut will be Tinker Belle and she’s joined by a tuxedo-clad Mickey, a red polka-dot version of Minnie, a pink version of Daisy, and Donald, who appears to be identical to his previously released figure. It looks pretty slick, and it’s hard to argue with the character choices. The castle interior looks like it will be full of easter eggs, and possibly hints for future mini figures, and the only initial piece of criticism I could offer is the depth of the castle looks shallow. It likely would have benefitted from a hinged design to make the base at least appear bigger. Aside from that, it’s a nice piece of eye candy and something I’m going to have to buy for my Disney-obsessed wife.LEGO_71040_fi

 


The Sword in the Stone

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The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone has the distinction of being the final animated film released during Walt Disney’s lifetime. It was also just the second feature completed using the Xerox process introduced with the previous film One-Hundred and One Dalmatians. Given that it was the final animated feature Walt laid eyes on, it’s a bit surprising that the film isn’t more well-known. It’s not considered one of the studio’s classics, being relegated to that second tier of features that isn’t considered worthy of a “Diamond” release on home video. Based on the novel by T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone tells the tale of a young King Arthur and his tutoring by the wizard Merlin to prepare him for when he sits on the throne. There are numerous elements of fantasy and it’s a tale familiar to Disney fans in design as it follows a young misfit’s rise to importance through self-discovery. In a way, it’s like the male-equivalent of a Cinderella.

The story opens with a montage focusing on the death of Uther Pendragon and the tale of his sword which was magically sealed in an anvil and only the true ruler of England can remove it. We’re then soon introduced to our unlikely hero, Arthur, who goes by the name of Wart. Wart is an orphan taken in by Sir Ector and his ambition is to one day squire for his foster brother, Kay. Similar to Cinderella, Wart is treated like a servant by his foster family often forced to clean the kitchen and do household chores while Kay is being steered towards knighthood by his father. Sir Ector dangles the potential of being Kay’s squire as a carrot for Wart, but it would seem the old knight has no real intention of letting the boy actually serve in that capacity, preferring someone of noble birth for his true born son.

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Archimedes, Merlin’s crotchety owl, steals many of the scenes he is in.

Fortunately for young Wart, he has Merlin looking out for him. The old wizard has been to the future and back numerous times and has foreseen the coming of Arthur, right down to where Wart will fall through his roof for their first “chance” encounter. Merlin is not quite a bumbling old wizard, but he is a bit forgetful which at times gets the duo in trouble when he needs to recall the words to an important spell. He is accompanied by his owl, Archimedes, who in true Disney fashion is fully capable of speech. Archimedes is a grumpy sort but incredibly intelligent, often foreseeing the trouble Merlin is about to get himself into. Despite his prickly nature, he is a loyal pet and does look out for Merlin, and eventually, Wart as well.

Merlin is forced to endear himself to Sir Ector in order to serve as Wart’s tutor. He’s permitted to inhabit the old tower outside the keep, which is badly in need of repairs. The bulk of the film consists of Merlin trying to teach Wart lessons that will serve him well as king in the future, often by way of changing Wart into another creature to experience nature from another perspective. This is how the film sources its various gags as Wart becoming a small fish inevitably leads to him being viewed as food by a hungry predator. The best gags probably occur when Merlin changes the two into squirrels and an eager female takes a liking to Wart. These scenes are fairly light and innocuous and Disney tries to incorporate some danger into them, though the characters rarely feel like they’re in true peril. The film also doesn’t take many risks with its humor, often resorting to the simplest of jokes which contributes to the film’s safe tone. The climax of the film actually arrives rather quickly with little fanfare or much teasing of the outcome giving the film a rather abrupt ending. It’s not all together unsatisfying, but the film could have perhaps lingered a little longer with the fallout of Arthur pulling the sword. Once again, this invites a comparison to Cinderella in how that film is essentially over once she puts on the glass slipper and we don’t really see the fallout with her step family.

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The film sources a lot of its humor from the repeating gag of Merlin having some object or knowledge of the future.

Narratively speaking, The Sword in the Stone is a simple tale that’s not likely to offend, but also not likely to delight in the ways some other Disney films do. When the narrative is a bit lacking, these films turn to two important components: their looks and their songs. The Sherman Brothers contributed to the film and it’s not one of their best efforts. Merlin’s song, “Higitus Figitus” sounds like a “Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo” knock-off that’s not nearly as charming. The best sequence is probably the villainous Mim’s number “Mad Madam Mim” but it’s not exactly memorable when compared with other Disney tracks. Being that the film was done with Xerox, it’s also not as attractive as Disney’s best, but it is a step-up from Dalmatians. The backgrounds have a bit more personality, though there are scenes of flat, monochrome, backdrops that feel lazy. These are mostly reserved for some of the interior shots as the exterior ones look quite good. They’re not on the same level as Bambi, and The Jungle Book would do better, but they’re perfectly fine to look at. The characters have a sketch quality to them, a hallmark of the Xerox process, but it seems to suit the subject matter of the film better here than others. The film had the opportunity to add some nice visual effects for all of the transforming scenes, but chose the easy way out and just had the characters vanish in a puff of smoke only to reappear as a fish, squirrel, etc.

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Because every film with swords and wizards needs a dragon.

If you head over to Amazon.com and check out reviews of the Blu Ray release, you will see a lot of negative ones regarding the film’s transfer. I view all of the my movies that I review on Blu Ray on a 55″ LED television and I use a Playstation 4 to watch them. I found my viewing experience to be fine so maybe I’m not as big of an animation snob as I thought. I also do not own the film’s older DVD release so I can’t compare the two. It’s possible people are just sensitive to the scratchy Xerox look now that it’s being presented in high-definition, and being one of the older films, The Sword in the Stone has minimal clean-up in that regard. This film also did not get a Diamond release, so I don’t expect it to look as good as something like The Jungle Book, so maybe expectations should be held in check. Simply put, if you decide to purchase this film and find it’s not up to your standards you can always return it.

The Sword in the Stone is a rather basic entry in the Disney catalogue. It can entertain kids and adults but only so much. It’s probably rare to find the fan that says this is their favorite Disney film, but it’s also probably just as hard to find someone who detests it.