A Cinematic Journey Into The Woods

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Based on the Stephen Sondheim play of the same name, Into the Woods is Disney’s big holiday movie for 2014.  The play itself is a tale about morality, vice, desire, and virtue.  Based on the concept that each fairy tale is supposed to teach us or our children a lesson to help them in life.  However the twist here is that several fairy tales collide to create the pillars of a whole new story where the object lesson is centered around the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I have to be perfectly honest here, before seeing this movie I knew very little to nothing about it.  Having never seen the play before or read much about it, never having heard the songs, I was going in blind.  There had been some brief discussion with my Disney Film Project Podcast co-hosts which contained a great deal of excitement from our own Rachel Kolb, who happens to be a huge fan of the play and knows a great deal about it.  When I’m in this situation I try not to come in with too many preconceptions.

The core story is about a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) and their desire to start a family.  However they quickly learn that they have been cursed by their next door neighbor who happens to be a Witch played by Meryl Streep who really steals every scene she’s in.  Wanting to break the curse, and be able to have a child, the Witch assigns them to retrieve 4 seemingly normal items and bring them to her in 3 days time.  The trick however is that this sends them on a collision course with the fairy tales Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel. 4 items.  4 stories.

The problem however is that the wishes of each of the major characters – the Baker, his Wife, the Witch, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and Rapunzel – have consequences.  Each of their stories plays out somewhat as you know them, but it’s what happens after this that matters.  But the wishes themselves are just allegorical wrappings for the choices the characters continue to make throughout the story.  And how they have to learn to take responsibility for those choices.

There is a lot of commentary that discusses the difference between the musical and the movie, from the removal of songs, to the changes of plot elements.  While not having seen the play, I’m guessing this serves 2 purposes; the shorter time a movie has to tell a story, and that some things that work on stage do not work as well on film.  While this is a somewhat dark story that has some moments that you may need to either explain or gloss over to your children, this is still a family film.  I might consider the age and maturity of any pre-teen children before seeing this film with them.  This is a very solid movie, based on a well constructed story, that I greatly enjoyed watching.

In addition to doing the web design and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Is An Awesome Mix #SpoilerFree #YoureWelcome

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I want to welcome you to the end of Act 2 and beginning of Act 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Guardians of the Galaxy (yeah I know technically Age of Ultron ends Phase 2, but this one is an Act change). Having just seen the movie for a third time, I want to let you know that it holds up very well across multiple viewings.  My only real regret at the moment is that these were all previews. That means there was no not-so-secret end credits teaser scene, and that I’ll have to see Guardians again just to catch that part.  Sorry, that’s a lie, I don’t regret having to see this movie again at all.

Know that Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie that is designed to appeal to a much wider audience than prior Marvel films.  Why? Because it’s not a movie about Superheroes, it’s a movie about heroism forged through sacrifice.  It’s also about murderers, thieves, bounty hunters, assassins – and that’s just the stars and heroes of the movie.  Don’t worry though you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.  In comics, the desire and ability to do good often comes with missteps.  You’re just going to see the worst of them, become the best of them and save the universe.

Wrong minded people might not want to see a movie where 2 of the stars are a vocabulary challenged floral colossus named Groot and a bipedal, gun-toting procyon lotor with anger management issues named Rocket.  It’s a shame really because what they’d see on the screen are creatures that are so well engineered (more-so in Rocket’s case) that it’s almost hard to believe they are not living things.  That and Groot is in so many ways one of the most beautiful things you’ll have seen on screen in a very long time that you will cry.  And if that still doesn’t convince them about this movie then, to quote said racoon, “They’re d’ast idiots!”

From everything I saw on the screen, I can only say that despite all the changes from the comic books this is actually superb bit of silver screen magic packaged in a way to keep even the staunchest of comic book fans happy.  There are a number of things I’m pretty sure I saw with my only regret so far being no sign of a mane of red, white, and blue.  I can’t wait to get this film home in a few months so I can pause and study to my heart’s content.  And note there’s a Hidden Mickey that I didn’t see until my third viewing.

Right minded people will notice that this movie is far less like Avengers, and far more like Star Wars or even Firefly. As I indicated above that gives us a movie that more people can in a lot of ways more easily consume.  It’s a strong showing for Marvel as they push to keep this freight train moving ever forward (at least through 2019), and Guardians of the Galaxy is going to be in theaters for many months to come.

* Now read the first word of each paragraph

In addition to doing the web design and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.

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A Spoonful Review Of Saving Mr. Banks

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For the past few years Disney and Mary Poppins fans have been anticipating the arrival of the movie Saving Mr. Banks.  There is a tremendous amount of words being set to page about this movie right now, and it is generally well liked – though it does have its detractors.  I can’t begin to tell you how good that is for a film like this.  I’ve seen Mary Poppins countless times (Star Wars: A New Hope being the only movie I’ve seen more), read the book (though not in some time, that needs to change), and even read some works about P. L. Travers herself.  That said, this isn’t a movie about Mary Poppins and if you think it is before having seen it, then you’re going to see quite a different movie then you’re expecting.

This is not a subtle movie in any way.  It will beat you senseless with its message while trying to mask itself with the appearance of subtlety.  Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t make it a bad movie at all.  In fact, I think it’s a fantastic movie.  One third of the movie is told in flashbacks to the life of P. L. Travers growing up as Helen Goff in Australia.  They are portrayed as wispy and almost dreamlike – thanks in part to the filter used on the camera.  Much like a dream.  Combine that with the way the relationship between Walt Disney and Travers is told and you can begin to see the magic of this film.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nijccxWvyXU&feature=share&list=PLTnR43JTLNs97g-zsOTqyBczgqxzuzxnt

As my brain groked what I’ve seen on the screen I realized that the story itself is an illusion.  It’s a dream.  And, as with most dreams, the roles that you see people portraying are not necessarily the people they represent.  Shift around the roles of the players a bit and you’ll realize that the more correct title for this film is Saving Mrs. Travers.

Saving Mr. Banks

Getting two actors who are well known character actors and setting them against each other was a stroke of genius.  Tom Hanks as Walt Disney is by no means perfect, but his mannerisms, stance, and appeal are all captured and I do not think another actor could have done as well a job with such a beloved individual.  Emma Thompson does an amazing job as Travers. Having spent numerous hours listening to the archival studio session tapes of meetings between Travers and various Disney employees, she tried to capture the emotional distress of Travers.  She even had her own hair styled to match Travers rather than using a wig.

Saving Mr. Banks

What really brought it all home for me though was listening to an interview with Jason Schwartzman and Richard Sherman.  Unlike Hanks and Thompson who had to study their roles by studying the past, Schwartzman was able to sit down and talk with the man he’d be portraying.  The two had spent countless hours together throughout the making of this film.  In the studio, Sherman was a consultant for all the “script room” scenes in the movie.  He has talked about how surreal and emotional many of the scenes were for him – seeing moments from his own life recreated.

Like is so often true for movies about topics and historical moments that have already been picked to pieces extensively, this film will not be for everyone.  In fact, it’s probably not a movie for the most hard core of fans – they’re not even the target audience.  Saving Mr. Banks is meant to tell the tale of how Mary Poppins almost didn’t get made in a way that is meant to appeal to the most general of audiences.  Keep in mind that this is not a family movie by any means, and you probably do not want to bring your small children to see it as there’s little in it for them – hence the PG-13 rating.

Saving Mr. Banks

In addition to doing the web design and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast. You can join him and his fellow hosts for Episode 156 where they will discuss the movie Saving Mr. Banks.

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A 10,000 Foot Review of Planes

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After years of bouncing back and forth between plans to release in theaters and other plans for a direct to video release, Planes is finally here.  It is, very obviously, a spin-off from the highly successful Cars franchise from Pixar.  However, despite the Pixar-like 3D computer animation, don’t think that this movie comes to us from Pixar.  Instead, it comes to us from DisneyToon Studios – makers of Disney animated sequels like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and DuckTales: The Movie (recently discussed on the Disney Film Project Podcast).  Despite not being from Pixar, Cars creator John Lasseter, being in charge of animation at Disney, was the movie’s Executive Producer.

The movie is about a cropduster named Dusty Crophopper that has dreams of becoming a world famous race plane.  As you might expect, there are several obstacles to his achieving this goal as on top of not being a plane built for racing he’s also used to flying low to the ground and therefore afraid of heights.  Unfortunately, despite the buildup of this internal conflict in the movie it doesn’t even really play into the plot at all and is more of a throwaway moment.  The most enjoyable part of the film for me was his training for the race and the metaphor of “chasing shadows” being used to represent the main character chasing his dreams.

My biggest problem with the movie is the main character himself.  As opposed to Cars, where Lightning McQueen is clearly the main character of the movie, Dusty gets lost in the vast array of other racers and characters in the movie who are simply more interesting than he is.  I don’t really find this that surprising considering other characters played by Dane Cook tend to have the same problem.  There was a lot of missed opportunity to build this character into something stronger and it just never happens in the film.

After that the movie suffers from the fact that few, if any, people go into the movie understanding what Plane racing even is.  And I still question if it’s even a thing outside of military time trials and air shows.   Not to compare it to Cars again, but people generally understood what car racing is before going to see Cars.  It played off a familiar theme and a passing knowledge of how the core of the story operates, and it did a fantastic job of capturing similar themes from movies like Rocky.  At that same feeling, Planes fails.

The movie itself was enjoyable, but it’s not great, and good is debatable.  I feel that I enjoyed the snail racing movie Turbo more than I enjoyed planes.  Parents however should be prepared to take children to see this movie.  They too won’t like it as much as Cars, but all the advertising mentions Cars, so your kids will be clamoring to see it.

In addition to doing the web designer and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.  You can listen to him and his fellow hosts discuss Planes in an upcoming episode.

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A Silver Bullet Review of The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

Yesterday was July 4th, and I found it or that while I was standing in the middle of the Magic Kingdom that my only goal was to head over to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and get myself a root beer slush.  Admittedly it was a fairly hot day, but that wasn’t why I was getting the drink.  What I wanted was the mug that it came in, shaped like a boot, and stamped with the logo for the newly released Disney film The Lone Ranger and the image of a Texas Ranger badge.  For the longest time, I’ve been a fan of the character, and his history.  As a child I had a spray-painted silver bullet on my desk, had made myself my own Halloween costume (that got worn more often), and was even a Texas Rangers fan.  So I’ll just apologize upfront if this seems biased.

The legend of the Lone Ranger goes back to a 1933 radio show which was one of the most popular of all time.  It has since gone on to produce a highly successful television program, a series of books, comic books, other movie treatments, merchandising, etc.  It’s safe to say that for 80 years this character has never not made money in some capacity.  And in 2007 the Weinstein brothers, after having left Disney, found themselves planning to buy the rights to the Lone Ranger for use in the home video market – only to see the company that was selling it to them snatched up by Dreamworks before this could happen.

Eventually, with the help of Jerry Bruckheimer, the movie was set up at Disney.  The first script treatment had had an extreme supernatural overtone, trying to play off the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’m not kidding, there were werewolves.  Elements of this original script were brought forward into the final product and can be found very obviously imbued into nature of the characters of Tonto and Butch Cavendish primarily, and to a lesser extent that of the main character John Reid.  In 2010, after the idea was on the verge of being scrapped, Gore Verbinski steps into the picture, and production kicked into high gear.  While Johnny Depp had been signed to the project back in 2008, they needed their Ranger, and Armie Hammer was signed to do so.

In my time as a fan I’ve read, watched, or listened to more than a dozen different version of the origin story of the Lone Ranger, and I have to say that this movie, The Lone Ranger, is a very fresh adaptation.  If you look closely it has so much of what has been brought before in it.  The Ranger is the lawman seeking justice, more literally as a lawyer.  Tonto is still the guide, taking a more spiritual bent.  And Butch Cavendish is as vile, rotten, and disgusting as he should be, adding a new bent that wasn’t too hard to… swallow (do you see what I did there).  A few of the twists in the movie are nicely done, especially the reveal – which is only lightly telegraphed.  There are still mines of silver and even nephew Dan as a future sidekick is alluded to.

For 22 (or more) minutes of the film I was on the verge of tears.  Why?  Because on the screen is something I feel no filmed treatment has gotten right since the television series use of the William Tell Overture.  The full treatment, overlaid on the end game of the movie is one of the most enjoyable on screen moments I’ve experienced.  The timing of every note to the action, movement, and feeling of the moment rounded this movie out fully and really brought it home for me.  It said to me, “Yes, this is the Lone Ranger.

Right now you’re seeing a lot of negative criticism about the movie, but really audience reviews of the movie are great.  Try to ignore the professional critics and go watch this movie and make your own decision about it.  There are some gruesome moments in the movie, that if you’re bringing your children you may get questions about.  Up front, I’ll warn you that Westerns aren’t for everyone, but we seldom get good ones that have the right feel to them anymore.  This however is one.  And if you’re a fan of the genre I feel you’re going to enjoy it.

In addition to doing the web designer and programming for the On the Go in MCO websiteTodd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.  You can join him and his fellow hosts for a Live Review of The Lone Ranger on Thursday, July 18, 2013.

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A Look At Monsters University

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It was 12 years ago that we first met Mike Wazowski and Sulley in what is now the 5th highest grossing Pixar film of all time, Monsters, Inc.  – reviewed in Episode 49 of the Disney Film Project Podcast.  In it we get introduced to these friendly monsters that are in a lot of ways just like us.  Only, with the exception that they’re monsters, living in a city populated by monsters, in world of monsters, all of whom were brought up to think that humans and especially children are toxic.  This Top Scarer team quickly learns that the world around them isn’t quite what it appears to be, and the quickly watch the house of cards tumble around them.

Now, on June 21st we get to learn how they met, in the long awaited… not sequel, but rather prequel, Monsters University.   Abandoning the idea that they met way back in the 4th grade as implied by a line in the original movie, but explained away by director Dan Scanlon, Pixar chose to go with the characters meeting in college. Twelve years is a long time, and it would never work for live actors because they don’t age in reverse, but fortunately these characters have all been sitting on computers at Pixar waiting all this time to once more stretch their legs.

The principal voice actors Billy Crystal and John Goodman return as Mike and Sulley.  And along with them come a new cast of characters played by a wide array of voice and acting talents: Helen Mirren, Dave Foley, Alfred Molina, and Nathan Fillion among them.  Together they help to bring to life a movie that reflects a much different world than that of the energy crisis ridden city of Monstropolis.

What we instead get is the journey of two younger monsters both learning to survive in the world around them.  One trying to live his dream, and the other trying to live up to his family’s expectations.  Two monsters who couldn’t be more different, on a journey to become the great friends we know them to be from Monsters, Inc.  And the most important aspect of the original movie is carried forward into this one: heart.

The view of college life in the movie does fall into the typical movie trope that everything that matters in college is decided and defined by fraternities and sororities.  But that hardly detracts from the points the movie is trying to make – it’s just the easier and more familiar path to take when making a college movie.  With all that said the portrayal of “the greek life” is minimal, and at times mocking.  The classroom scenes range from being reminiscent of both Harry Potter and Sky High.

Overall, I really think fans of the original won’t be disappointed with Monsters University.  It’s not nearly as new and fresh as Monsters, Inc. was when it came out, nor is it as good.  But it is a solid movie that makes it’s points, teaches us some lessons, tells us what we want to know going in, and even answers some questions we’d maybe been wondering along the way.  It was both fun and funny to watch, and I look forward to seeing it again this weekend.

httpv://youtu.be/xBzPioph8CI

In addition to doing the web designer and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.  You can join him and his fellow hosts for a Live Review of Monsters University on Thursday, June 27, 2013.

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