Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Reality of Wall-E

Wall-E doesn't play by the rules. I refer to Wall-E the film as opposed to Wall-E the character.

While it seems that praise has been nearly universal for this latest Pixar film, a considerable amount of dialog has emerged about what many consider the movie's somewhat odd mixture of formats. Specifically, the initial presentation of photo-realistic characters and environments, the use of live-action footage (primarily in the scenes featuring actor Fred Willard) and the somewhat dramatic aesthetic shift to the more cartoony realizations of the human beings aboard the Axiom spaceship in the film's latter half.

Noted animator and animation historian Michael Sporn noted on his blog, "I was, again, impressed with the incredible artistic abilities of the Pixar people, but I didn’t feel as though I were watching an animated film. It felt like a live action film (until the balloony fat people entered) with high effects. Perhaps that’s a positive; I’m not sure anymore. Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo, Snow White. These films were magic to me as a child. I imagine Wall-E is like every other effects film to today’s children. I can’t imagine it will inspire future generations to get into the field. Maybe, you never know."

I agree with Michael; very often over the course of Wall-E's 97 minutes, I completely lost the sense of this being an animated film. In fact, so immersed was I in this environment that, when EVE ignited a cigarette lighter in one of the movie's earlier scenes and my friend next to me marveled at how the flame was a simple yet amazing piece of animation, it took me a moment to understand what he was talking about. And I understand Michael's reservations as well. With much of Wall-E, Pixar has stepped beyond the very genre it has espoused and remained generally faithful to over the course of its prior eight films. They clearly decided to, in many aspects, move beyond what would be considered a traditional animated presentation. To many, especially industry professionals like Michael, it begs the question--are we watching something akin to Pinocchio or Snow White, or product more related to George Lucas' FX-driven opuses, or blue screen-filmed dynamics like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and 300?

I believe the answer to that question is truly rooted in the out-of-box creative approach that Pixar has long been noted for. Wall-E is unconventional. It moves beyond the unwritten but still somewhat ingrained rules of animation presentation, and does so in the service of the story it wishes to tell. I submit that the combination of the film's disjointed aesthetic dynamics was very much a deliberate choice on the part of Andrew Stanton and his team. The movie's three very distinct design approaches--photo-realistic animation, live-action actors and sets, and cartoon-based characters--are in fact integral components of the film's overall theme and story.

While Wall-E is at its heart a character-driven love story, it is played out on a thematic canvas that contrasts reality with the artificial. Robots are artificial; that is and has been a consistent truism of all entertainment media. And typically accompanying that truism is the story device of imbuing robots with sentience and emotions. But that plot dynamic is in fact not really central to Wall-E. Wall-E is introduced as a fully developed personality, not requiring a journey of self-discovery. He is a survivor very aware of his harsh reality, a being who understands concepts of loyalty and friendship, and more than anything he is a lonely dreamer yearning for companionship. Though artificial in construct, Wall-E is very real; he is not very far removed from current executions of robot-based technology, thus he is all the more believable. In turn, his native environment is equally believable; from the haunting landscapes of an abandoned and garbage-filled megalopolis, right down to his battered Rubik's Cube and comical collection of garden gnomes. The intention becomes clear, Wall-E's world is not very far removed from our own.

The establishment of Wall-E and his environment by use of photo-realistic animation then serves to contrast the film's other not so subtle overriding theme--the reverse-evolution of humanity. Closeted aboard a giant cruise ship-inspired spacecraft, the human race has wholly embraced the artificial. Theirs is an existence of commercial over-consumption, supported by an infrastructure that simultaneously exposes and insulates them from their environment and fellow beings. The physical-emotional connectivity that Wall-E so desperately desires is seemingly always within reach for the denizens of the Axiom, but ironically only occurs by accident.

In filmed entertainment, there is in fact nothing more artificial than traditional cartoon-style animation. And so we thus see that transformation of human beings in the film. Humanity, as initially represented by the very real character of Buy-N-Large CEO Shelby Forthright, portrayed by Willard, is ultimately supplanted by the very artificial and cartoon style-designed incarnations aboard the Axiom. It is an evolution that is cleverly documented via the portraits of the Axiom Captains that hang on the wall in the current ship captain's quarters. It is there in that one subtle but very important set piece that the filmmakers' aesthetic and design intentions become especially clear.

Characteristic of Pixar, it is indeed a bold move. For they in fact use the various different formats of filmed presentation in the service of storytelling and transcend the very medium they have long been associated with. In many circles, especially those within the animation industry, it will likely remain a debated and somewhat controversial topic. As strictly a moviegoer, for me, Wall-E presented a wholly new and original approach to the animation genre. We can certainly split hairs as to how we want to categorize and classify the film, but in the end, at least in my opinion, it will remain a wonderful combination of stunning visuals and heartfelt storytelling.

Image © Walt Disney Company

Friday, June 27, 2008


Wall-E is the right movie at the right time. It is at its core a sincere and simple love story devoid of sarcasm and cynicism, but framed within a cautionary fable that gently, though still pointedly, presents a post-apocalypse future brought about by environmental neglect and commercial over-consumption. It is a visually stunning combination of art and design that conveys an astounding emotional depth through not just its deftly animated central characters, but via landscapes and panoramas at times hauntingly surreal and and at other times dense in high tech polish.

The film's title character, a resilient and ever-curious robot appears to be the last of his kind left on a garbage-filled and long abandoned planet earth. With his only friend, an equally sturdy and resilient cockroach, he spends his days compacting and stacking trash cubes while also collecting objects and paraphernalia from what is our now bygone civilization. In doing so, he has developed an unexpected emotional dynamic that imbues in him a loneliness, inspired especially by the romantic musical vignettes he has discovered on a VHS copy of the film Hello Dolly.

Wall-E's world is rocked both literally and figuratively by the arrival of EVE, a sleek distinctly female robot sent by the space-exiled last vestiges of humanity living on a distant starship. EVE is seeking any sign of the reemergence of organic life; Wall-E in turn seeks companionship from EVE and an emotional-physical connection in the form of the hand-holding he has witnessed in the scenes from Hello Dolly. Their romance ultimately takes them into space where they confront the overweight and overstimulated remnants of the human race who live an idyllic, albeit mindless existence and have long ago lost the heartfelt connectivity that Wall-E so desperately yearns for.

The film's hallmark is most certainly its earthbound first act, almost entirely devoid of dialog yet dense in character-driven story and emotional resonance. Though his romance with EVE takes center stage, his friendship with the unnamed cockroach is equally rich in nuance and charm. Director/writer Andrew Stanton embraced a wholly unconventional approach with the material, but it paid huge dividends. So incredibly well-realized are Wall-E, EVE and the movie's other non-human denizens, you are never at a loss to understand what they are all about. It all represents a commitment to creative integrity that continues to set Pixar well above their closest competitors.

Equally entertaining, but in an altogether different way was Presto, the new Pixar animated short that preceded Wall-E. It is a beautiful and hilarious Tex Avery-inspired cartoon that is pure fun from beginning to end.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Am Very, Very Excited . . .

This is getting to sound like a broken record: Pixar Animation Studios has just topped itself. Again.

The film is so clever and sophisticated that you worry, slightly, that it might be too clever to connect with mainstream audiences. But like those worries last year that having a rat for a hero in "Ratatouille" might throw off audiences, surely "WALL-E" will make that connection. It's so sweet and funny that the multitudes undoubtedly will surrender to its many charms.

-Hollywood Reporter

The engaging and visually stunning computer-animated WALL·E (* * * * out of four) is a significant departure for the studio, with its sci-fi plot and soundtrack of beeps and buzzes that serve as communication between the bots.
WALL·E is at once futuristic, funny and fantastical. It's an extraordinarily captivating adventure, laden with equal parts humor and heart and populated with memorable and endearing characters.

-USA Today

EVERY time I think the studio that gave us "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" can't possibly top itself, Pixar comes up with a masterpiece like "WALL-E," which smuggles barbed political satire into a charming, hilarious robot love story aimed at the entire family.

-New York Post

Many will attempt to describe WALL-E with a one-liner. It’s R2-D2 in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey starring The Little Tramp. An Inconvenient Truth meets Idiocracy on its way to Toy Story. But none of these do justice to a film that’s both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate—and, for a good long while, absolutely bereft of dialogue save the squeals, beeps, and chirps of a sweet, lonely robot who, aside from his cockroach pet, is the closest thing to the last living being on earth.

But WALL-E will not be remembered by children–or the adults for whom WALL-E is really intended–for its tsk-tsking environmental policy or its Naomi Klein polemics. Rather, you’ll adore it because of a cuddly, lonely little robot who breaks your beeping heart.

-Village Voice

The first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E— in which barely any dialogue is spoken, and almost no human figures appear on screen — is a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in. The scene is an intricately rendered city, bristling with skyscrapers but bereft of any inhabitants apart from a battered, industrious robot and his loyal cockroach sidekick. Hazy, dust-filtered sunlight illuminates a landscape of eerie, post-apocalyptic silence. This is a world without people, you might say without animation, though it teems with evidence of past life.

-New York Times

IF Pixar Animation Studios has an enviable record of consistent success -- and with a worldwide box-office gross of $4.3 billion from its eight films, it certainly does -- it's because the company has an uncanny gift for pushing things further without pushing too far. Pixar's adventurous new film, the one-of-a-kind "Wall-E," shows how it's done.

Daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental, "Wall-E" gains strength from embracing contradictions that would destroy other films. Directed by Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote and directed the Oscar-winning "Finding Nemo," "Wall-E" is the latest Pixar film to manage what's become next door to impossible for anyone else: appealing to the broadest possible audience without insulting anyone's intelligence.

-Los Angeles Times

Yet even as the movie turns pointedly, and resonantly, satirical, it never loses its heart. I'm not sure I'd trust anyone, kid or adult, who didn't get a bit of a lump in the throat by the end of WALL-E, a film that brings off what the best (and only the best) Pixar films have: It whisks you to another world, then makes it every inch our own.
-Entertainment Weekly

Pixar’s “WALL•E” succeeds at being three things at once: an enthralling animated film, a visual wonderment and a decent science-fiction story. After “Kung Fu Panda,” I thought I had just about exhausted my emergency supply of childlike credulity, but here is a film, like “Finding Nemo,” that you can enjoy even if you’ve grown up. That it works largely without spoken dialogue is all the more astonishing; it can easily cross language barriers, which is all the better, considering that it tells a planetary story.

-Roger Ebert

It is, the more I think about it, a jewel of a film in conception, execution and message. But the kids, who had been laughing at a recent screening, got very quiet during certain sequences, especially when the Earth seemed irredeemable. "WALL-E's" glance into the future didn't do much for my bliss either, but the idea that a company in the business of mainstream entertainment would make something as creative, substantial and cautionary as "WALL-E" has to raise your hopes for humanity.

-Washington Post

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Souvenirs: The Magic of Disney Animation

Roy Disney's introduction to the magic of Disney animation souvenir brochure, circa 1989:

Welcome to Walt Disney Animation in Florida!

Can you imagine an American childhood without the magic moments of Disney animation? No Mickey Mouse...or Minnie. No sputtering, rasping Donald Duck, tossing and turning through a nightmarish night on an unruly mattress. No "Whistle While You Work." No epic, comic, cliff-hanging mouse-eyeview up a mammoth stairway to Cinderella's bedroom. Will they make it in time for her to try on the magic slipper?

Suspense, slapstick, imagination, heart, gentle humor and a happy ending—all are part of the tradition of Disney animation. Audiences of kids and grown-ups have delighted in sixty years of silliness and storytelling, sentimentality and terror. Dumbo flies. Snow White runs from the scary eyes in the forest. Lady and Tramp fall in love over a plate of spaghetti. Tito tries to hot-wire a limousine—instead, he hot-wires himself. Fairy godmothers appear on cue. Mickey Mouse leads a band, battles a giant, falls in love.

Disney animation provides a generous sprinkle of pixie dust. With it, you can fly up, up and away, over the rooftops of London to Never Land—or into the past, to darkened theaters, vivid images and the plaintive voices of kids asking, "Where's Bambi's mother?"

Disney animation pleases the eye and warms the heart. It makes you cry and it makes you laugh. As the foundation and wellspring of The Walt Disney Company, animation is celebrated in the Animation Building at the Disney-MGM Studios.

The Animation Building is a working studio. Inside, more than 80 artists and technicians are creating new animated films for theatrical and video release. A unique behind-the-scenes tour includes films starring animators—and animated characters—who tell the insiders' story of animation. Strolling through soundproof corridors, guests watch as animators bring classic Disney characters to life.

The magical world of animation is introduced by The Disney Animation Collection. The Collection, a changing exhibition of the best of animation art, is drawn from The Walt Disney Company Animation Research Library and the Walt Disney Archives. Some pieces are classics, and have appeared in museums and publications. Others have never before been seen by the public. The paintings and sketches, sculptures and drawings are more than just works of art ... they are basic to the lives of three generations of Americans.

The Collection begins at the point in the animation process when pen, paintbrush or crayon is first put to paper. A storyline has been crafted, the dialogue is in its final stages—enter the artists with concept sketches and paintings. Silly, scary, impressionistic or harshly detailed, these drawings provide inspiration for a scene, character or mood. Layout drawings indicate camera movements and serve as set designs. Next, detailed backgrounds are painted to provide characters with a house to live in, a forest to wander in or a corner pocket on a pool table, from a cricket's point of view.

Once the set is in place, the focus shifts to the characters. Animation drawings are produced by animators— "actors with a pencil" —who come equipped with rampant imaginations and plenty of technical know-how. Character movement springs from long days at the drawing table, fierce story sessions and plenty of foolishness (like the eager assistant who demonstrated how Pluto ought to eat—by getting down on all fours and dining from a dog dish). How do you animate a hat brim? Grab that three-dimensional study model on the desk. Turn it. Twist it. Draw it. Or take advantage of technology and computerize it—everything becomes a tool for getting the best movement to express a character's emotion.

Finally, after perhaps years of work, a single frame of animation is ready for the camera. A set-up—inked and painted animation cels laid over a background—has been honed and perfected, checked, assembled and charted. Special effects have been added. One twenty-fourth of a second of glory is committed to film—then captured on the wall of the Disney Animation Building for you to wonder at and admire.

Six decades of Disney animation have left posterity with surprisingly few examples of artwork. Paper is fragile; pastel rubs off. And in the early years, cels were reused for economy (remember "The Dip" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Now collectors' items, pieces of Disney animation art evoke childhood memories and weave together a rich tapestry of fairy tales, children's books, original stories and pure movement and motion.

From Steamboat Willie to The Little Mermaid, with over a hundred Dalmatians, a few handsome princes and various woodland beasts thrown in, Disney animation has been synonymous with quality, innovation, and fun. This proud tradition, celebrated in the Disney Animation Collection, continues in the Animation Building at the Disney-MGM Studios.

The current Disney Animation attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios is but a very faint shadow of what was easily one of the premiere attractions of Walt Disney World. The shuttering of the Florida studio was certainly one of the saddest moments in the histories of both Walt Disney World and Disney Animation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth Class

Disney Lost and Found

Disney Lost and Found: Exploring the Hidden Artwork from Never-Produced Animation by well-regarded animation historian Charles Solomon has arrived in bookstores and it offers another illustration-rich peek into the Disney Studios fabled Animation Research Library. Solomon provided a previous tour of that archive in his extensive 1995 book The Disney That Never Was. Slighter in text and pages than that earlier exploration, Disney Lost and Found still remains a joyful experience and a welcome addition to any Disney history library.

In the book's first section, Visions Lost and Found, Solomon presents artwork and conceptualizations from classic features such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty and The Rescuers. The chapter is essentially a collection of either deleted scenes or abandoned concepts. Especially revelatory were early concept designs for Sleeping Beauty by Bill Peet that demonstrated a dramatic contrast from that film's ultimate realization, and an extensive amount of material showing two early and very different story ideas for The Rescuers.

The remainder of the book focuses specifically on two more recent abandoned projects from Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Predating Chicken Little by a number of years, Wild Life was intended to be the studio's first foray into a wholly CG animated feature. Solomon notes, "Wild Life began as a Pygmalion story designed to show children the shallowness of the world of glitz and fashion. But over the a period of months, it turned into a more cynical story set in the club scene of Big City, a fictionalized 1970s New York, the era when David Bowie and The Velvet Underground hung out with jet-setters in urban clubs." Designs by artists such as Hans Bacher, Floyd Norman and Greg Killman reveal a concept that was indeed a very dramatic departure for Disney. Alternately stunning and outrageous (and sometimes both), the designs for Wild Life clearly extended beyond what was considered appropriate for a Disney feature and it is not difficult to understand why it was ultimately shelved. As Solomon notes, " . . . insurmountable problems arose, especially between the decadent milieu of the later versions and the requirements of the traditional Disney audience."

Much more regrettable is the abandonment of My Peoples. Solomon's description of the proposed feature indicates what might have been a wholly original and visually stunning film:

"The idea for My Peoples grew out of Barry Cook's interest in American folk art. The co-director of Mulan, Cook imagined a tale of star-crossed lovers set in Appalachia in the late 1940s. Old Man McGee swears to keep his daughter Rose away from Elgin Harper because of an old feud and the superstition that 'bad things happen' when Harpers and McGees get together. The 'Peoples,' folk-art characters Elgin crafts from found objects, come to life to bring the young lovers together."

The interesting twist to the film's design was that the Peoples would have been rendered in CG in contrast to the film's overall presentation in traditional animation. The artwork revealed in the book foreshadowed what could have been an amazing and visually arresting final film. A careful reading between the lines indicates that executive-level interference ultimately doomed the project, but Solomon does note that "Some artists still hope that My Peoples will be revived one day."

One common characteristic among Disney enthusiasts seems to be the hunger to see that which might have been. Disney Lost and Found serves up a veritable feast that satisfies and manages to squelch a least some of that hunger.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Snapshot: Disneyland! - The Charms of Main Street

The aesthetic charms of Main Street USA in Disneyland are like magnets to the camera lens. Trademark windows of dedication combine with color and forced perspective to create a dramatic visual vignette.

As to the windows themselves--Emile Kuri was an Oscar-winning set decorator famous for Disney films such as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He also contributed designs for Disneyland and served as a consultant for Walt Disney World.

According to his official Disney Legends biography, "Former Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Attractions, currently Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Ron Dominguez is a 'native Disneylander.' Originally, his family owned and lived on 10 acres of the orange grove-covered property, which was purchased by Walt Disney for his premier theme park in 1954." Hence the faux-business name Orange Grove Property Mgmt.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Freeze Frame! - The Sport Goofy Pile-Up

Happily, the Goofy cartoon How to Hook Up Your Home Theater is available again on iTunes after a brief hiatus. 2719 reader Shane Snyder was amazingly quick on the remote when he found this series of Sport Goofy cameos as part of a football player pile-up near the end of the short. Featured in the montage are characters from three separate Goofy cartoons. (Well four, if you count the obvious reference to How to Play Football.)

A hockey player from Hockey Homicide is followed by Goofy and his horse from the How to Ride a Horse segment of The Reluctant Dragon. Finally, and hilariously, is the instructional stick figure from the short How to Play Golf.
Some of the other not quite so hidden gags in the short include the bookshelf photos we featured in a prior post, references to Mickey Mouse and Dopey on the television box, a cuckoo clock inspired by the short How to Ski, and a cameo by Cleo from Pinocchio.

Another eagle-eyed reader spotted the stadium scoreboard near the beginning of the cartoon that identified the two football teams as the Geefs and the Dawgs--a distinct tribute to Goofy's two other cartoon identities, his early 1930s moniker of Dippy Dawg and his 1950s everyman persona of George Geef.

Special thanks to Shane and the other readers who contacted us via email and the comments section to point out these other great gags and tributes.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Freeze Frame! - Goofy's Photo Gallery
The Violent Mayhem of Hockey Homicide
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater

Images © Walt Disney Company

Friday, June 20, 2008

What a Character! - Professor Owl

His career was brief, but oh so significant.

Professor Owl has quite the pedigree. Imbued with the creative energies of Disney Studio veterans such as Ward Kimball and Bill Thompson, he found his way into two Disney cartoons, both of which remain critically celebrated and historically significant: Adventures in Music: Melody and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom.

The two cartoons, both released in 1953, are largely credited with infusing the then emerging cartoon modern style into Disney animation. In addition, each short represented an animation first; Melody was the first cartoon presented in 3D, while Toot was the first cartoon to stretch across the widescreen Cinemascope format. Toot would also be honored with that year's Academy Award for Animated Short Subject.

In many ways Professor Owl became a stylized incarnation of a similar character that was featured four years earlier in the film So Dear to My Heart. The Wise Old Owl of that movie delivered morality tales via animated vignettes to film's young protagonist played by Bobby Driscoll. In Melody and Toot, Professor Owl replaced morality with music education and taught his lessons within a birdhouse schoolhouse, populated with the likes of Bertie Birdbrain, Penelope Pinfeather, Suzy Sparrow and the Canary Sisters.

Kimball provided Professor Owl with his more minimalist but still dynamic aesthetic design while Bill Thompson supplied the character's personality rich voice. Thompson's resume at Disney had also notably included the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore from both Donald Duck and Humphrey Bear cartoons.

Professor Owl was certainly a non-traditional design and a clear departure for animators such as Kimball. Colored in shades of blue with large oversize spectacles, he was a stark contrast to the studio's prior canon of animal characters, and his two star outings ushered in Disney's 1950s era of cartoon modern-influenced productions.

Image © Walt Disney Company

Meet Wall-E and Your Fellow Carolina Enthusiasts!

Tar Heel Disney fans unite!

Next Saturday June 28, I along with my brothers in blogging George and Andrew from Imaginerding, will be hosting an informal Carolina Disney Meet to see the new Disney-Pixar film Wall-E. We will be meeting in High Point for a matinée show. For more information on theater and showtime, email George directly at biblioadonis at yahoo dot com.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lost Imagineering: Thunder Mesa

It is likely the most enduring legend of Lost Imagineering: Thunder Mesa and its signature attraction, the Western River Expedition. Press materials from 1969 provided this description:

"THUNDER MESA....A major attraction in the Frontierland area will be this spectacular panorama, where the old west will live again through a series of exciting adventures. Designed to resemble a 'table-top mountain," typical of those on southwestern deserts, it will include a pueblo-style village and other attractions, including the -Western River Expedition," a frontier fantasy on the grand scale of 'Pirates of the Caribbean' in California's Disneyland."

The very best account of the history and development of Thunder Mesa can be found at Widen Your World. Take a look!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coming Soon: Kingdom Keepers 2

It's been some time in coming but the second volume in the Walt Disney World-themed young adult book series Kingdom Keepers will be released later this summer. Kingdom Keepers II: Disney at Dawn by Ridley Pearson will arrive in bookstores on August 26th. Here's the synopsis provided by the publisher:

It's supposed to be a happy day at the Magic Kingdom-the return of the teenaged holographic hosts. But things go very wrong when a sudden lightning storm disrupts the celebration, and Amanda's mysterious sister, Jez, disappears. The only clue is the sighting of a wild monkey in the Magic Kingdom during the storm. The mystery deepens as Finn is contacted by Wayne, an old man he hasn't heard from in months. Wayne tells Finn that there's trouble at the Animal Kingdom: the evil Overtakers have gained control of one of the computer servers that will be used to operate Daylight Holographic Imaging there. That means that if any of the holographic hosts fall asleep, they will go into comas-permanently. Filled with action and brimming with the same meticulous detail as The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark, this second book in the series-Disney at Dawn-is the result of hands-on research behind the scenes at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. Young and older readers alike will get a glimpse into a second Disney kingdom. The wild rides have only just begun; and the clock is ticking. How long can the teens keep themselves awake in their quest to find their friend-and what happens if they fail?

The first Kingdom Keepers, also penned by Pearson and released in 2005, was a generally fun, if not a bit wacky at times adventure. It clearly was intended to be the beginning of a series and many readers had begun to wonder if the project had been abandoned. It's interesting to note that when the sequel was first announced earlier this year, the title given was Kingdom Keepers: the Rise of Chernabog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Snapshot! - Goofy Gadgetry

The World of Disney at Downtown Disney in Walt Disney World has an amazing assortment of large scale and colorful character vignettes that are suspended above the store's vast selection of merchandise and souvenirs. Wacky gadgetry is the overriding theme and Goofy is featured in a sleigh design that could almost be described as "happy steampunk."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Come On In and Enjoy

I really got a kick out of this sign that was located in Tomorrowland promoting "new-fangled Air-Cooling" within the the Carousel of Progress. The attraction remains in Walt Disney World primarily due to its nostalgia qualities and historical significance, and the sign most certainly plays homage to those dynamics. It is a fun and clever design.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Goofy's Photo Gallery

Walt Disney, John Lasseter, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy's debut in Mickey's Revue are all featured in this blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment from How To Hook Up Your Home Theater. They are quickly cast off the bookshelf to make room for a speaker component.

Image © Walt Disney Company

Get Goofy on iTunes!

I've received countless email over the past few months inquiring about the availability of last year's new Goofy cartoon How to Hook Up Your Home Theater. In that regard, great news! The short has quietly surfaced on iTunes and is available for purchase. Still no word on a DVD release, though inclusion in a future Disney Treasures set would seem possible.

UPDATE: iTunes currently lists the short in its Disney Short Films category but returns a message of The item you requested is currently not available in the US store when you either attempt to purchase the item or link to its product page. I purchased the short from the US iTunes store on June 13th in the afternoon. If anyone associated with Disney Home Entertainment or iTunes can clarify the situation please contact me via email or post comments.

UPDATE 2: The short is now again available for purchase and download.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

How To Hook Up Your Home Theater

Thursday, June 12, 2008

1915 Tournament Champions

It is a fun, albeit somewhat mysterious detail that hides in plain sight on the walls of Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The Main Street eatery is decorated with old fashioned baseball memorabilia, paying tribute to Casey at the Bat, the famous poem and subsequent Disney cartoon that inspired the restaurant's name and design. Among a number of antique photographs near the large Republic Field scoreboard is this picture of the 1915 Tournament Champions. Though cleverly disguised, it is clearly of a more contemporary origin. It has been speculated that the individuals pictured may be the Imagineers responsible for Casey's Corner. Can anyone out there identify these folks?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Toy Story Midway Mania

While engaging, fun and entertaining, the new Toy Story Midway Mania attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios is also relatively uninspired and certainly unexceptional. It will no doubt be a crowd pleaser for years to come and it serves as a much needed counterpoint to the Studios less kid-friendly headliners, but it is not an E Ticket attraction by any means.

There is distinctly no WOW! aspect to Toy Story Midway Mania. It more or less duplicates the technology behind DisneyQuest's Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold, which has been around for nearly a decade. In theme and format, it is essentially an enhancement of its Magic Kingdom cousin Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. The ride is buoyed by the presence of the always charming and captivating Toy Story cast of characters and an as yet unrivaled level of interactivity, but as a theme park attraction it remains wholly unoriginal. It is a fast and fun ten minutes, but it doesn't by any means represent state of the art Imagineering. Even the attraction's very sophisticated Mr. Potato Head animatronic seems to fall short of being a true representation of the company's recent living character initiatives.

The attraction also suffers from what seems to be the perpetual Disney World-Pixar curse of disjointed theming. Toy Story Midway Mania was clearly developed for the Paradise Pier area of Disney's California Adventure, and its presence in Florida is likely more the result of bean counter rationale than creative sensibilities. The carnival midway theme in no way relates to a movie studios dynamic, and the attraction's location inside a replica of Pixar's Emeryville headquarters proves somewhat jarring.

All that said, Toy Story Midway Mania is a quite enjoyable attraction that begs repeat visits. It is a solid D Ticket experience.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Snapshot! - The Latest from Muppet Labs

Though I was largely Star Wars focused on my most recent visit to Disneys Hollywood Studios, I did happen to notice this additional piece of theming that was added to the exterior queue area of MuppetVision 3D. In this case, the buffoonery of Muppet Labs extends into the area adjacent to the Streets of America and nearby to Al's Toy Barn.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Snapshot! - Stormtroopers at the Crossroads

This year's inaugural Star Wars Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios was my first experience with the annual celebration. It was a fun and entertaining time, but I have to say that I enjoyed the Stormtroopers more than anything. They are cool. Very cool? Very, very cool.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Snapshot! - Deer Crossing

This photograph taken at the front of Sid Cahuenga's at Disney's Hollywood Studios demonstrates the frequent juxtaposition of designs and elements at Disney parks that are so much fun to document.

My family and I head south today for vacation. Thanks to the generosity of my most excellent friend George Taylor, we will be enjoying the luxuries of Saratoga Springs at Walt Disney World. (If you can't be in the DVC, at least make friends with someone who is!) I'll be updating 2719 Hyperion throughout the week from Disney World as opportunity permits.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vinyl Magic - Yippi-A, Yippi-I, Yippi-O!

As Disney enthusiasts and historians, we attach ourselves to the obvious and too often overlook the equally notable and precious. This can be especially true in the Walt Disney Company's long and significant musical history. I have long been passionate about Disney music and had assumed I'd "heard it all." But over the past few years, primarily due to the efforts of music producer and archivist Randy Thorton and authors Greg Ehrbar and Tim Hollis, I have discovered a wealth of amazing material that lies beyond the higher profile feature film and theme park melodies and songs that people most commonly associate with Disney musical entertainment. It is a legacy of vinyl magic from bygone days that has thankfully been quietly reemerging into the digital age.

In the summer riding, singing, Yippi-I, Yippi-O
Back the echoes come a ringing, Yippi-I, Yippi-O
So sway in the saddle and swing all along, and sing another chorus of the Triple R Song
Yippi-A, Yippi-I, Yippi-O!

A shining example of this now diminished vinyl magic is a campfire song that for a brief time in the mid-1950s embodied the happy charm and widespread popularity associated with the daily Mickey Mouse Club serial The Adventures of Spin and Marty. "The Triple R Song" may be a simple sing along tune, but it resonates a nostalgia for a time and place held dear by baby boomers such as myself.

"The Triple R Song" was penned by Stan Jones, a former National Park ranger who became well known for his 1949 hit "Ghost Riders in the Sky." As Ehrbar and Hollis note in Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, "The campfire tune used multiple verses to sustain the plot and provide exposition. It was among the first tunes recorded for the Official Mickey Mouse Club Records released in 1955." Jones also composed the song "Goodnight Little Wrangler" for the series, and would continue his association with Disney Studio until his death in 1963, producing two different albums of western songs and the hit "Wringle Wrangle" for the film Westward Ho the Wagons.

Due to the disjointed nature of its presentation on the Spin and Marty serial, a studio recording of the song was also produced in 1955 and was included on the record album Walt Disney Presents Songs from the Mickey Mouse Club Serials. Tim Considine, in his persona of Spin Evans, featured prominently in the recording and was joined notably by famed Disney actor and voice performer Dallas McKennon, who performed the parts of Marty's butler Perkins and George the camp cook. In an interview feature on the Disney Treasures Spin and Marty DVD set, Leonard Maltin and series star Harry Carey, Jr. (Bill Burnett) made special mention of "The Triple R Song." Maltin observed, "I don't know how to explain it, but there is something about that simple song Way Out Here on the Triple R . . . it just stays with you."

"The Triple R Song" is just that--engaging in its very simplicity as it tells an encapsulated version of the summer's events at the Triple R Ranch from that very first of the Spin and Marty serials. It is heartfelt and true and speaks clearly to the bittersweet nature of summer camp experiences: friendships forged, happy and exciting adventures, and the inevitable and emotionally painful goodbyes at the season's end.

With lyrics that include phrases such as "doggoned pretty song" and "he just couldn't be so doggone swell" it is no doubt easy for many to mock rather than appreciate the old fashioned 1950s era sensibilities that the song in many ways communicates. It matters not, for in the end the happy nostalgia and unabashed sincerity of Yippi-A, Yippi-I Yippi-O transcend any amount of jaded cynicism younger generations of viewers may wish to deliver upon it.

The day of parting now draws near, Yippi-A, Yippi-O
Tomorrow is the day we fear, Yippi-A, Yippi-O
Back home to school and scattered far,
But we'll never forget the Triple R

Walt Disney Presents Songs from the Mickey Mouse Club Serials and "The Triple R Song" are available from the iTunes music store.

Freeze Frame! - Cowboy Camp at the Triple R

In Pixar's classic Toy Story 2, Andy heads to cowboy camp, setting off the chain of events that sends Woody, Buzz and company on journeys of both adventure and self realization. But just exactly where was cowboy camp? Andy's shirt provides the answer: the Triple R Ranch. This was the setting of three Mickey Mouse Club serials, The Adventures of Spin and Marty, The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty, and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty. The series were featured on the Mickey Mouse Club from 1955 to 1957.

Campers there were distinguished by their fashionable Triple R Ranch white t-shirts, as modeled here by series stars David Stollery and Tim Considine.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Step Back in Time - Thank You Walt Disney!

If there are any 2719 Hyperion readers out there with reasonable access to the Kansas City area, please consider attending next week's fund raising event on behalf of the nonprofit organization Thank You Walt Disney and its efforts to restore the original Laugh-O-Grams Studios building. The event is being held on Thursday, June 12 at the new Screenland Armor Theatre in North Kansas City. Festivities begin at 6PM with a silent auction and will conclude with a special showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at 8PM. Tickets are $35. For more information about the event and how to purchase tickets, go to or email

Kansas City was an integral and important time and place in the life of Walt Disney and even more significantly in the history of animation itself. The McConahy Building, located at 1127 East 31st Street was the location of the Laugh-O-Grams Studios and is the focal point of the restoration efforts of Thank You Walt Disney.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Long Ago Magic Along 31st Street in Kansas City

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Get Inside Disney Music

I've made many friends since starting 2719 Hyperion and one such individual is musician and composer David Recchione. I had the pleasure of meeting David at last year's MagicMeets Disney fan gathering in Pennsylvania, and he is one of the most friendly and genuine persons I have encountered in the Disney fan community. We went on to participate together in a round table discussion on Disney theme park music on a Disney-themed podcast and I realized I had found a truly kindred spirit in the appreciation of Disney entertainment, and most especially Disney music.

A few months back, David had given me a sneak peek of content he was preparing for a blog on Disney music. I was thrilled. David has now finally launched the Inside Disney Music blog, with a wonderful four-part series entitled The Disney Film Composers. It is an enlightening, well researched, insightful and valuable addition to the Disney blogging community.

Awesome work, David and best of luck!

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Toontown Field Guide: Certificates of Merit

In the living room of his house in Disneyland's Toontown, Mickey proudly displays two Certificates of Merit, both awarded by Toontown Mayor Anna Mation and both bearing the official Toontown Seal. Each one corresponds to a specific classic Mickey Mouse cartoon. The certificate for Alpine Climbing refers to the 1936 short Alpine Climbers that featured Mickey, Donald Duck and Pluto. A certificate for Excellence in Mice Skating makes reference to the 1935 cartoon On Ice. Each certificate bears a date that corresponds to each cartoon's original date of release; On Ice on September 28, 1935, Alpine Climbers on July 25, 1936.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Pixar Touch

I have long bemoaned the largely uneducated state of so many of the denizens of the Disney online community. As my very good friend and fellow blogger George Taylor regular documents and promotes, there is a vast library of resources available, especially in print form, on all matters and subjects Disney. But unfortunately, discourse based on solid research and reputable sources is often secondary to the back side ventriloquism practiced by so many Disney bloggers, podcasters and community members.

One particular subject that so often inspires uninformed sound bites and hollow punditry is Pixar. That is why David A. Price's book The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company is so welcome a publication. Though not as pronounced as it used to be, the "Pixar is not Disney" mantra continues to be voiced in many circles. Through meticulous research and astute observations, Price dispels that supposition, demonstrating that Pixar is in many ways the spiritual successor to the creative and artistic philosophies innovated and sustained by Walt Disney throughout his lifetime.

In documenting the history of this "little company that could," Price reaches well beyond the creation of memorable and now iconic characters such as Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mike, Sully and Nemo. The roots of Pixar stretch back to the beginnings of the computer revolution during the late 1960s and 1970s and the dogged perseverance of Ed Catmull and his determined contemporaries. Price chronicles the efforts of these individuals to develop a viable technology of computer animation with the ultimate goal of creating a wholly computer generated animated film. A serendipitous encounter with a young Cal Arts-trained animator named John Lasseter ultimately becomes a lightening in a bottle dynamic that would forever change the landscape of animated film making.

Price weaves a compelling and page-turning history that in many ways showcases both the then quickly evolving computer industry and the evolution of computer driven special effects for film and television. Lucasfilm, Apple and Disney are the primary backdrops for the tale and it is fascinating to relive notable events such as the development of the PC and the creation of the original Star Wars films from this particular perspective. While it is immensely satisfying to bear witness to the story of Catmull's and Lasseter's marriage of cutting edge technology with Walt Disney-inspired storytelling and creativity, it is the machinations of such secondary players as Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and most especially Steve Jobs that prove the most interesting and enlightening.

My only disappointment with the book was in its ever increasing slightness as it moved more and more quickly to the climactic Disney-Pixar merger in 2006. Price moves quickly through the company's last decade of incredible successes and provides little information and insight on the post-merger Pixar, despite the two years that separated that event from the book's publication. I was left hungry for more information and insight on such topics as Catmull's and Lasseter's restructuring of Walt Disney Animation, the reworking of Meet the Robinsons, Chris Sander's controversial dismissal from American Dog (now Bolt) and Lasseter's own still somewhat ambiguous role at Walt Disney Imagineering.

That reservation notwithstanding, The Pixar Touch is a comprehensive and well written chronicle of not just Pixar, but of the contemporary Walt Disney Company as well. If you are a Disney enthusiast who wishes to argue the merits of Pixar and its celebrated creative team, then at least do so from a well educated frame of reference. David Price's book is a great place to begin or extend that education.