Monday, March 31, 2008
Sometimes when my friends and I go to the movies as the credits start to roll and we begin talking about what we liked and didn't like about a film, I also tend to have in the back of my head...
"This coulda' been a Disney film."
What do I mean by that? Well, usually it comes up when I've seen a film that reflects the kind of story one would expect from a Walt Disney Picture. A good story that is suitable for the entire family. One that can be enjoyed by parents and kids without talking down to either of them. One that stresses values and commitments. One that focuses on compelling characters that provide ideals and role models that keep an audience interested.
So, I know some of you are then asking... "What are some of these films?"
The Harry Potter series
J. K. Rowling's tale of an orphaned boy that is a potentially powerful wizard in a battle of good versus evil is a perfect example of this. I remember after seeing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" thinking why didn't Disney buy this property? The characters and richly detailed story are perfectly in line with the kind of family fare that the Mouse should be putting out.
Don Bluth's film based on the real life princess from Russia is wonderful film about the Czar of Russia's daughter and features great animation with an equally devilish villain, Rasputin. This film could have easily had the Disney logo before it. The story and characters are pure Disney even if the distributor is not.
The Mask of Zorro
I loved this film. It should have been made by Disney. It had the perfect story, setting and actors to retail the adventures of the man that leaves behind the letter "Z". Truly a great time. I told my friend as we left the theater that this should have been made by Disney. It was a modern retelling of the old Zorro show. Disney had done it as a television show in the 50's and the Suits should have realized its potential now. Sadly, another studio beat them to it. The sequel, unfortunately was horrible... it's almost as if they forgot what made the first one good.
The Indian in the Cupboard
On his ninth birthday a boy receives an old cupboard from his brother and a little Indian figure made of plastic from his best friend. These two gifts turn out... a flawed, but sweet tale about magic and the meaning behind it. Worthy of having the castle in front of it.
A Little Princess
Alfonso Cuarón's enchantingly heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of a girl named Sara whose her father enlists to fight for the British in WWI, that travels to New York to attend a boarding school. Soon she battles with the headmistress, Miss Minchin, who belittles her and works at grinding down Sara's view that every girl is a princess(very Disney, btw). A wonderful film. This would have been a great film to have done for Mickey... actually, any film Alfonso Cuarón does would be great for the Mouse. His adult films as well as his family films, but this being a Disney site/post it makes sense going with the family film category.
When I first heard of this film I was aghast... why/how remake a classic? Especially one that has been done many times on stage and screen. Of course, I've since then decided that it all depends on the approach you take with certain material. As the "Neverland" script I mentioned in my "Top 5 Scripts Not Made By Hollywood" post. I was amazed at how fresh and interesting the movie was even though I knew the story, P.J. Hogan and Michael Goldenberg's script takes the classic J.M. Barrie book and gives us a lively, inspired take that is very difficult to do with something so known and well loved. If Disney is going to remake "Alice in Wonderland" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" I hope they take this course... it would be a smart move.
Babe & Babe: Pig in the City
I know I said I don't care much for CG talking animal movies, but "Babe" was to me, a modern representation of "Charlotte's Web", with all the morals and lessons of that classic book... since then, Charlotte's Web has been made into a film, but I think that "Babe" is a better representation of it than the official adaption. Chris Noonan did a great job with the original and surprisingly, George Miller(Mad Max, Road Warrior) one-upped him in the sequel to make an equally interesting tale.
Home Alone & Home Alone 2
I'm a little hesitant calling these would be Disney films because they could also be Warner Bros. cartoons with the hi-jinx that take place throughout the story. Little Kevin getting left behind on Christmas to fend for himself against the looniest, dumbest crooks to ever break out of a cell block. The second film is essentially a remake of the first(like Terminator 2) with a bigger budget and new locations.
The Lord of the Rings series
I'd like to kick Michael Eisner's butt for letting this fall out of Miramax's hands, but perhaps it's for the best as it was originally going to be just two films and taking it to New Line helped flesh it out to one film per book... of all these films, this is truly the one that actually was going to be a Disney film or at least one of the film companies owned by the Mouse. This grand tale has everything one would want in a sweeping epic from Disney. Although I liked "Narnia", I didn't warm to it as much as this film series which had a much grander and layered story. While "Narnia" felt like a fairy tale one tells your kids, this one felt like a fantasy one reads by themselves.
The Iron Giant
Brad Bird's best film so far is his first. The utterly classic tale of a boy growing up with a single mother that is looking for a friend, searching for a father and finds both in the form of a giant robot from outer space. Set in the highly paranoid late 50's when the "Red Scare" was running across the nation. A pure delight. What E.T. is to Spielberg, this is to Bird. I only wish that it had been made by Mickey and the gang, it might have gotten a better marketing push and ended up being a box office success instead of just one with the critics.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
What "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" did for the current generation, this film did for the 70's generation. This wacky, sometimes dark film is filled with wonder and song set about the factory of the mysterious Willy Wonka as played by Gene Wilder. While I love Johnny Depp, this film gets the story right in more ways... while Depp's portrayal comes off as a "What would happen if Michael Jackson owned a candy factory" kinda thing. A vigorously smart tale that doesn't talk down to the audience, be they child or be they parent or anything in between...
The Secret of Nimh
Don Bluth's greatest film and finest achievement. After leading a revolt from Disney because of declining quality and lack of direction, Bluth created this tale that was to show Disney how to make a great animated film(again). The story of Mrs. Frisbie, a field mouse recently widowed and is forced to care for her 4 children by herself. Mrs. Frisbie goes on a fantastic journey to find help for her family. The animation design is pure Disney... the studio that put it out was not. For shame, Mouse... for shame.
The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner made an utterly charming film that boys, girls and adults alike can enjoy. Giants, a beautiful princess with villains and swashbuckling swordplay from a leading character modeled after Errol Flynn. Oh, and Billy Crystal funny as he can be. This should have been part of the Disney family of films.
Another film set in the late 50's dealing with the race for space and Sputnik... my favorite film by Joe Johnston, actually one of only a couple I like by him. The other being the flawed Disney film, "The Rocketeer"(meddlesome Suit interventions and a story for another day). Based on the true story of Homer Hickam who grew up in a small coalmine town and developed a love of rockets after seeing what was happening in the larger world around him. With a small group of friends he pursues his love against a narrow minded town and critical father. Sweet, almost "Capraesk" quality to the film and that is saying a lot from me since I adore Frank Capra. File this under shoulda, coulda, woulda for the Mouse.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Ok, now if Disney can make it's own enjoyable, pedestrian rip-off of this with "National Treasure" then why the heck couldn't they of done the original? That's what I keep saying to myself. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg together are the closest thing we've really had to Walt Disney(Lasseter being the one exception). There is a reason, more than financial that Indy and Star Wars are in the parks... they belong in the Disney canon of films even if they aren't owned by Disney. Everything about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" says Disney... too bad Disney didn't say yes when it came to making this.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A great film about a fun loving kid that rebels against the societal norms of his school and family just to have a "Day Off" from the grind. Life moves pretty fast, as Ferris says... although I don't watch or mind films like "High School Musical", it would be great to see Disney Suits trying to find modern representations of this 80's classic to entertain tweens and adults alike. I say, "Save Ferris, Save the Mouse"...
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg's love letter to growing up in a divorced family combines his love of science fiction(Amblin, CEOTK) with a tale of a family trying to cope with what life throws at you. Especially when it throws an alien from another planet at you. The story of Elliott and his family living in a suburb of a Californian town that discovers we are not alone. The boy's isolation and longing for a redemptive father figure are played out as he befriends someone like himself. Someone that feels lost and alone in a world he didn't create... even if that someone is from millions of miles away. Classic and again... pure Disney. Ironically, this one was offered to Disney and Ron Miller and his Suits turned it down. There were questions about scenes in the script Ron felt a Disney audience would be unaccepting of. He was kicking himself after opening weekend, of course...
The Secret Garden
Agnieszka Holland's film based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic book is an amazing, spectacular family film. Caroline Thompson's screenplay is dead-on perfect in presenting a young British girl born in India who loses her parents in a tragic earthquake. She returns to England to live at her uncle's castle. Once there, the uncle, troubled by his own loss neglects her as did her lost parents and she explores the estate, discovering a garden that has also been locked and neglected(see a motif building here?). Some of the servants boys befriend her and together they restore the garden while discovering the many secrets that the castle holds. A marvelous film to watch with kids or without. Pure Disney, though it is not...
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
I never really thought of Ian Fleming(James Bond's creator) as a children's novelist, but this film is based on a book by him. The screenplay by Roald Dahl(yes, that Roald Dahl) and director Ken Hughes captures the story of an eccentric professor that invents Steampunk type gadgetry that is always in financial trouble. He creates a revolutionary car which a foreign government wants to have and tries to acquire by any means necessary. Much fun and lampooning thus doth begin...
Star Wars Trilogy(original)
The original saga of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is a living, breathing throwback to the days of Flash Gordon serials and is the sort of valued tale that the Mouse should have been turning out in the 70's. It's attempt was "The Black Hole" which didn't exactly meet the expectations of Suits or audiences. Star Wars is a story that was built for Walt Disney Pictures and should George Lucas or his kids ever decide to sell Lucasfilm, is the most compelling reason the Mouse should buy it. No other company, in my opinion, could handle this property better than Disney.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
There's a new TV Spot out there that shows snippets of the new Indy movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and it's filled with priceless character shots. I can't wait to see a new trailer for this film soon...
Friday, March 28, 2008
As we reported here at Blue Sky Disney last year, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are in final negotiations to write the reboot of "The Lone Ranger" for Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
The film is being planned as a tentpole for 2010.
The irony in this is the property was once owned by the Mouse(if you've read the blog much, you know this) and is now owned by Classic Media. Having began as a 30s radio show created by George W. Trendle, the Masked Man quickly moved into serials, a hugely successful TV shows, comic strips, comic books, toys, novels before languishing in the 70's. An earlier reboot in the 1981 was a horrible box office bomb.
Elliott and Rossio will try to breath life into the Ranger the way they were able to remake Pirates into a financial success story. They also turned another loved member of the Old West into a hit with "The Mask of Zorro", although that was not made by Disney(should have been, but that's a story for later).
The project will be made by the Mouse with and Jerry Bruckheimer producing, Mike Stenson and Chad Oman executive producing and Jason Reed is the Suit for Disney.
A note for the "Geek-Challenged": The Lone Ranger also happens to be the grandfather of "The Green Hornet". Fighting crime and working for Justice runs in the family, eh? Now, if the Mouse were smart, they'd get the rights to Green Hornet and make it.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
On this day...
One hundred and seven years ago, the father of Uncle Scrooge was born.
Carl Barks, arguably the greatest Disney comic book artist was born in Oregon and would go on to fill my life with cherished adventures around the world with the famed fowl tightwad until the day I saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
He brought a sense and wonder to Donald Duck Comics expanding Walt's world by adding Scrooge and other citizens of Duckburg. Someday, I'll have to go into a discussion of the difference between the Disney comic world and the Disney animation short world, but that is a discussion for another day.
It's kind of ironic that another movie featuring MoCap is coming from Robert Zemeckis via the Mouse...
It seems the man has abandoned film making with actors in favor of living in a world where he only has to deal with actors for a few weeks instead of months. I'm beginning to think that what one Hollywood insider told me could be true. Zemeckis has simply gotten tired of dealing the demands and idiosyncrasies of actors. He hasn't abandoned film, but appears more and more he's abandoned actors as part of the process. At the very least he's limited his involvement with them to as little time as possible. I guess the experiences he's had over the last two decades have had him say "enough is enough".
Well, enough of my rantings...
Michael Dougherty("X2",Superman Returns") is attached to direct the performance capture sci-fi adventure "Calling All Robots" for Walt Disney Pictures and Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers production shingle. The film is described to be in the vein of the 50's Sci-Fi monster movies ala "Godzilla"... so that aspect of it could be pretty cool, but I wish they'd quit trying to create realistic representations of actors. I think this could be accomplished easily, and um... better using the real thing. It's one thing to create a creature like Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings", but to try and recreate something we see throughout our entire life, everyday is almost impossible. It's a monumental, mostly impossible task to cheat the human eye when it comes to realistic humans. Hopefully, the characters in this film will be stylised representations, not realistic depictions.
Here's hoping this is going to be good. No, scratch that. Here's hoping I'm wrong and it's great...
Thanks to all of you that responded to my list of the Top Five Scripts Hollywood Never Made. I thought we'd take a second to look at the movies coming out over the next few months. This summer promises to have an amazing amount of new releases at the box office...
Let's see, we have "Iron Man", "Made of Honor", "Mister Lonely", "Son of Rambow" on May 2nd, "Speed Racer" on May 9th, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", "Midnight Meat Train", "What Happens In Vegas", "Padre Nuestro" on May 16th, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on May 22nd, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", "Sex and the City: The Movie", "Starship Dave", "Savage Grace" on May 30th, "Kung Fu Panda", "You Don't Mess with the Zohan", "Mongol" on June 6th, "The Happening", "The Incredible Hulk" on June 13th, "Get Smart", "The Love Guru", "Religulous" on June 20th, "Wall-E", "Wanted" on June 27th, "Hancock", "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery" on July 2nd, "Hellboy II", "Tropic Thunder" on July 11th, "The Dark Knight", "Mamma Mia!", "Space Chimps" on July 18th, "Step Brothers", Untitled Ice Cube Family Comedy", "The X-Files 2" on July 25th, "He's Just Not That Into You", "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor", "South of the Border" on August 1st, "Eagle Eye", "Journey 3-D", "The Pineapple Express", "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2", "Blindness" on August 8th, "Dragonball", "The International" on August 15th, "Case 39", "I Know What Boys Like" on August 22nd, "Trailer Trash" on August 29th and that's just what I remember that's coming out this during the coming weeks of warm weather. So I thought I'd put together a list.
Here is Blue Sky Disney's top picks of the summer starting from number one:
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull(Paramount Pictures) - The first Indiana Jones movie in 19 years is the movie that holds the most anticipation for me. The Man in the Hat returns in his first adventure based on a Disney themepark attraction... errr. Wait. Or is that reverse? Either way, seeing this larger than life character back on the silver screen is a welcome sight and the only movie that is truly an "event film" for my friends and me.
Release Date: May 22nd
The Dark Knight(Warner Bros. Pictures) - Christopher Nolan's second run at the Gotham vigilante runs a close second to Indy as we get to see the further adventures of one of the most fascinating characters in comics. Featuring Heath Ledger in his last, fully completed role as the clown prince of crime, this film has a lot to live up to... "Batman Begins" is the most fully three dimensional representation of the caped crusader. Popcorn and soda for all.
Release Date: July 18th
Speed Racer(Warner Bros. Pictures) - The modern, live-action take on the 60's anime show comes to us courtesy of the warped, gender-bending minds of Andy and Larry Wachowski. When I first heard about this I wasn't too excited... especially after seeing the extremely disappointing sequels to "The Matrix". I've had the script for this for about four months and am glad I didn't start to read it. After seeing the trailer I want to be surprised... it's really trippy. If you haven't seen the trailer, go have a looksie. It's a tale colored in Skittles and unlike anything I've seen in a long time.
Release Date: May 9th
Wall-E(Disney/Pixar) - Andrew Stanton's last animated movie till next decade has all the charm and sweetness one would expect from the director of "Finding Nemo'. Not only does the animation show why Pixar is at the top of computer graphics animation, but it presents one of the best examples of why John Lasseter was put in charge of the Mouse's animation.
Release Date: June 27th
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian(Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media) - The second adaption of C.S. Lewis' Narnia saga appears to be taking a more epic and darker road as the success of the first one has given Walden Media and Disney more confidences in laying down the bling for a grander continuation of this fantasy.
Release Date: May 16th
Iron Man(Paramount Pictures) - A movie based on a second tier comic book character getting a big budget presentation? I wasn't that keen on seeing this until I heard that Robert Downey Jr. had been cast. Then Jeff Bridges and a star studded cast peeked my interest. The preview looks good, faithful and quite fun. This project has gone a long way since Tom Cruise was attached to this project.
Release Date: May 2nd
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor(Universal Pictures) - I read this script almost two years ago and loved it. Very much in the vein of the original movie. A truly fun read... I hope that the film is as good as the script. It's by the writers/producers of "Smallville" who just so happen to have written a script for Disney called "Jungle Cruise". My only disappointment so far is that Rachel Weiz didn't return as Evie...
Release Date: August 1st
X-Files 2(20th Century Fox) - A huge fan of the television show. I enjoyed the first film, didn't think it lived up to the hype and wasn't as good as a movie as it was as a series. That being said, I'm looking forward to seeing Skully and Mulder in action again, I just hope everyone else is as well.
Release Date: July 25th
Hellboy II(Universal Pictures) - I had actually never read Mike Magnola's bizarre hero from hell until after I saw the first film. It was a pleasant surprise. I've read them all now and really enjoyed the film for what it was able to accomplish in compacting a story into a couple hours and showing us this universe. Looking forward to seeing another dark adventure of the employees of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). I've been impressed with what Guillermo del Toro has been able to get up on the screen with the budgets he's given.
Release Date: July 11th
Get Smart(Warner Bros. Pictures) - As a kid, I grew up watching this show and thought it was a riot. A great take on what would have happened if James Bond was an idiot... Steve Carell is perfectly cast as Maxwell Smart the agent that defends the world with his shoe. Seeing the world in peril never looked so funny.
Release Date: June 20th
Buy a lot of popcorn... it's going to be a long summer. Let's hope it's going to be a good one as well.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The "It's A Small World" situation and the rumors surrounding DAK have made a great deal of Disney Geeks/Fans really upset. As I mentioned earlier Disney could have handled this with more care... they should have known that loyal fans and a great deal of Annual Passholders were going to be upset with any changes to the classic ride designed by Disney Legend Mary Blair.
The addition or changes to rides at parks happen all the time. Some are good, others bad and a few unnoticeable. Not many remember the changes that have taken place to attractions like "Snow White"... many originally don't recall that Snow herself was added later, or the Peter Pan renovations come to mind. Most park visitors take for granted any changes unless it's a ride they were planning on going on and then they're quite disappointed with a long refurb like "Small World". It's people like the Annual Passholders that see these rides much more than an out of state/country visitor that will notice subtle changes or dramatic departures from time honored experiences Imagineers create.
The IASW plans have been in the cards for quite a few years. There has been a need for the canals to have work on them for decades, really. It was when this work was being planned that the realization set in how long it would take and WDI decided to do some alterations and design changes. Some of what was designed be going into HKDL is what Imagineers have planned on putting within the settings of Small World with Mary Blair styled representations, of course(a MB styled Peter Pan in England type of design as an example). The plan was to be subtle, but have some alterations as well as the possible retheming of one section that WDI thought could be altered. Fans have become greatly upset as these plans have shown the Mouse continues to be "Cartooning" attractions that don't or shouldn't need it.
While Disney is sensitive to Passholders needs it also takes into account what guest in the park tend to say they want to see and more and more visitors always mention the characters. They want to see more characters... after all, that is why they chose a Disney park over one somewhere else. Now I know what you're saying. I understand what is going to be mentioned and I tend to agree. The quality of the attraction experience at a Disney theme park is much higher as well and most of these same guest might forget that. But Park Managers working with TeamDisney Suits and some TeamDisney Burbank Suits are continually trying to figure out how to draw more guest into the parks and even more important, get them to hand over more of their cash. This is how the rationalization of seeing more characters in the park and on certain rides is validated and justified.
As the world becomes more and more competitive with Disney being not the only theme park out there... it's trying to define itself and differentiate itself from all the other players. It used to be just Disney half a century ago, really. I mean, now you have along with the Mouse, Universal, MGM, Marvel, Six Flaggs, Sea World and a handful of others all competing for the same dollars. I know that the quality and stylings of rides is what you and I know is a hallmark of a Disney attraction, but no other company has Disney characters to offer its guest(except OLC, of course). With globalization and the world becoming a smaller place the folks at Disney are trying to show guest that these experiences are only available within the walls of a Disney theme park and no other. A companies brand is important and creating new revenue as well as keeping up the old veins of revenue is difficult for many corporations to do. Branding the parks and saturating the market with products featuring Mickey or Princesses or Fairies is one of the ways that this branding works to keep customers happy and paying. The "Cartooning" or "Characterization" as I call it is one of these strategies.
This is where Disney Geeks need to realize the power they have as "Virtual Shareholders"... if you want attention to something, a poll over at TMZ may have a minor effect, but phone calls, letters or more importantly, complaints at City Hall do much better. Now leaving an expletive filled ranting will not be the best way such focus should be directed, but sending a passionate, reasoned letter or note to Guest Relations can bring about enlightenment of Suit at the parks and corporate office. If you want to make your voices heard my friends, then complaining on message boards and filling out polls is not the direction to head. If you want to be heard the path to do so leads to Anaheim and Burbank...
Monday, March 24, 2008
On this day...
One hundred and three years ago, Imagination fades a bit as French writer Jules Verne, the original "Steampunk" author and inspiration for many Disney films and attractions passes away in France.
Great minds leave behind trails... he leaves behind whole worlds.
All this talk of fixing the Second Gate leads to the obvious question...
What about the Third Gate?
When the Mouse finally does get around to building a third theme park for the Disneyland Resort it has some serious personnel and operational questions it will have to address. Problems that it's been avoiding up till now... Have a big "?" over your head right about now? All right, then.
Let me unpack that statement for you...
A theme park employs thousands of people. For it to function properly it must maintain a certain amount of employees(Cast Members in Disney's case) and needs a degree of highly qualified employees(of particular importance in Disney's case). Once the Disneyland Park expanded and became the Disneyland Resort it needed to doubled in population when it came to Cast Members. Finding that many qualified applicants meant one of two things.
1. Either increase the pay to find those applicants.
2. Lower the requirements and standards for said applicants.
Back in the 90's this answer for a penny-pinching Eisner was simple... lower the bar.
There are many, many good cast members at the Disneyland Resort, but trust me when I tell you that the quality standards and tolerance for bad behavior is much lower than it was in the early 90's. Wether it be dress code with exposed tattoos, employee tardiness or even vandalism... there is much more acceptance of it than a decade ago. The truth is that the sheer need of "bodies in the park" far outweighs the ability to keep these standards. And unless the economy turns desperately bad in the near future there isn't going to be a change anytime soon. Bob Iger feels at present that the Disney Company pays prevailing wages to get employees, he doesn't however see the day to day hassles in the trenches that managers, leads and tenured CM's go through just to do what used to be commonplace. When teens and college level students can get better paying jobs at companies like Starbucks and not have to put up with the strict standards and schedules that the parks sometimes require they simply leave and take their marketable skills elsewhere. This leaves Human Resources with the task of filling large turnover and doing what they can do as an incentive for potential CM's that doesn't require raising salaries. The Cast Members recently got a nice pay raise as of January 2008, but it was more to do with the state increasing the minimum wage than trying to attract competitive candidates for employment. If they had kept the current rate it would have made someone working for the park literally pennies away from the lowest amount they could pay legally. That was enough to get the Mouse to raise the base pay alone, but not enough to make sure that the quality remains.
I've been called "pollyannish" in my view of Disney and had people say that I have nothing bad to say about the Mouse or it's running. If you've read enough of my post you'll note that I can be harsh and sarcastic at times, particularly with former management. I tend to believe the new management is far better, but far from perfect(as the IASW situation has unfolded, for example). Bob Iger is a great CEO, he's smart, but he's human. The company, just like all of us makes mistakes. Sometimes they're small and have little effect, other times they are large and have decade lasting ramifications. DCA was after all, a park created on the cheap. Built to take advantage of the Disney name without having to live up to the Disney quality. The Mouse didn't create a failure, but it did create a disappointment(minor to some, major to others)... and they're going to spend the better part of a decade fixing up this disappointment. This isn't the case with Tokyo DisneySEA... that park isn't perfect, but it has nowhere near the headaches that DCA does. It's had to add expansion to the park, but it hasn't needed and won't need such a massive level of cash put into the park. What it needs now, is simply more rides of the same level of quality it started out with... and they're coming. DCA on the other hand has to create an entirely new level.
And I truly believe that they're doing their best to accomplish this, honestly. Not everything happens as planned or goes right upon opening...
This is a problem that could have been avoided with clearer vision and forethought. By the mid 90's the Mouse was truly lacking in this department. But, I personally am an optimist... Bob Iger isn't an idiot and didn't get where he is by luck. Hopefully there are those around Disney's current CEO that will enlighten him to these situations. Who knows, he may already know about them and be in the process of correcting them. My Bothans don't reach that high up, sadly.
The problem I'm talking about here is far from insurmountable, but it is a challenge that will face the Mouse if/when it does decide to go forward with the preliminary plans it has for a Third Gate. Such a park will require adding thousands more CM's(an increase of approximately 50 percent more CM's, actually) and it will either involve some form of pay increase, incentives or a combination of both. If this doesn't happen, the bar will have to be lowered from where it is now and the difference between a Disney park and just another park will be blurred even more...
Many Cast Members aren't comfortable with that and neither are Human Resources. It's hard enough right now to attract enough talented people(it doesn't attract enough, btw). If the Suits at TeamDisney Burbank think that adding a third park will be easy(after they get over the headache from looking at the proposed cost, of course), then they're living out their own Disney fairytale. And as much as I love Disney, this is one story that could have an unhappy ending.
Bob Iger and company better think this through and work with HR to come up with a solution that will retain and hopefully raise the quality and bar of Mouse hiring in the future...
Wishing upon a star won't help in this case.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Those of you that want to get an idea of what Disney's California Adventure was going to be like before Paul Pressler told Barry Braverman to cut a third of the budget, should take a look at a post over at the Disney and More Blog. Alain Littaye's blog always has interesting stuff on it and this is something he posted a couple days ago. Sorry for the late notice, but if you want to see what DCA would have looked like with a budget of around $900 million instead of the $650 million it got, then give the images he posted from Disney's Press Kit for the future Second Gate a looksie...
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Barron's online has an article(member's only... sorry) that talks about the "World's Best CEOs". In the article they refer to his Stevedom by saying: "The consummate innovator is Apple's Steve Jobs, who arguably is the world's most valuable CEO and whose unexpected departure could cut 30 or 40 points from the price of Apple shares, now around 130. That makes him a $25 billion man. From the iPod to the iPhone, Jobs continues to innovate and to defy doubters awaiting a major failure. And with Apple depending on the success of new products in the fiercely competitive market for consumer electronics, Jobs is the ultimate high-wire act in American business."...
So one has to ask, if he's this valuable to Apple...
How valuable is he to Disney?
Friday, March 21, 2008
There's a lot of people upset about the long refurb of "It's A Small World" going on right now. The renovation which is due to be done at the end of the year has attracted an unusually large amount of attention lately with the announcement that classic Disney characters will be placed in geographical relation to their stories.
It seems that Brady MacDonald over at the L.A. Times Travel Blog and the Re-Imagineering Blog have stirred up quite a bit of dust. The guys at WDI are scrambling to make sure the public doesn't turn on them. In an open letter to them Kevin Blair(Mary Blair's son), had smacked the Mouse across the face about some of the proposed changes. Now, from what I know most of the changes are due to age and not because of weight... this ride hasn't had an extensive refurb like this in decades. The changes involved in adding the characters were supposed to be subtle with the style fitting more closely to that of Blair's artwork, but it has a divided camp inside WDI as well. Some feel that they shouldn't be messing with the classic attraction while others feel the need to tinker with the ride now that there is an opening during this long refurbishment.
The publicity arm seems to be trying to control the damage from people sending e-mails and all the media exposure that is shining a light on this. Some people are saying this is not near as big a departure as the "Pirates" refurb and that fans should wait and judge the results come the Holidays...
One things for sure, when Disney starts enhancing the classic attractions it better tread lightly and carefully. This story about a Small World seems to be becoming very big.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
There was a lot of great feedback about my 20,000 Leagues Under The Influence post and some were asking how DCA will be different now than what came before...
The main difference is everything that's being designed has a theme, a narrative that focuses on the actual ride. There will no attraction like the "Maliboomer" which is essentially a carnival ride with little theming and no story. Don't believe me? Remember the focus of that Influence article used the descriptions of TDS based on the Mouse's press kit. Well take a look at this official description of what the new land opening in 2012 will be:
"Carsland nestled in the heart of Ornament Valley, Carsland will be home to the characters from Disney-Pixar's smash hit 'Cars' spanning 12 acres this brand new land will transport guest to the heart of Radiator Springs, where they will experience ground breaking attractions, a dine-in restaurant and free wheeling fun for the whole family.
Radiator Springs Racers a speedy 'E-Ticket' attraction will place guest right in the middle of the amazing detailed world of Mater, Lightning McQueen, Doc and Sally. After a quick race briefing from Doc and Lightning, passengers will suddenly find themselves in the midst of an exciting race through shadowy woodlands, canyons and valleys, waterfalls and tunnels, complete with hairpin turns, steep banks and a heart-pounding dash for the finish line.
Carsland substantially increases the size of the park, with two additionally immersive rides featuring Luigi and Mater. "This is the the first major project of DCA that goes outside the boundaries of the themepark and really starts to add space and activities," Bob Weis said.
At Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, a full-size moving, talking and dancing Tow Mater will be the disc jockey at a spinner ride that will have passengers whipped around the desert floor in truck trailers. And at Luigi's Roaming Tires, guest will find something molto specile. With the help from Guido, Luigi has taken delivery of a new shipment of tires from Rome, but every time he tries connecting the compressor, he creates an "air"- racing car ride."
See how there is a story... an attempt at least to tell an idea or create a narrative structure. It's going to take time, but slowly this park will have all the details that were missing when it opened and then some. The story for "The Little Mermaid" attraction will be just as good too. There are also a few surprises you'll find in the pier over the next two years. Annual Pass Holders who've visited the area lately will notice how the details keep being piled up. Just take a look at the "Midway Mercantile" shop riders will have to go through as they exit. The sign alone shows how much quality has improved. I'll talk more about this a little later this month in another Blue Sky Alert...
Yes, there will be one coming. Patience. You can stop sending me e-mails about it.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The Walt Disney Company's had a pest problem for a long time. Decades even. You'd think that they would have called an exterminator after they first noticed the problem.
Have you seen how many rodents there are there? First they had mice, then more mice and finally rats... It's getting downright crowded in Burbank. Heck, they've even found them in other parts of the company... Emeryville for example.
But the problem all started back in 1928 when Walt was just starting his studio. The first one to show up was this little rascal of a rodent named...
It didn't end there either. It turns out this Mickey had a mate...
And then there was the time Walt went to the circus for research for his movie "Dumbo". That brought in this other mouse named...
Oh, and when Walt had that castle built for that princess she brought along a bunch of mice. Even though there were supposed to be no pets...
Of course when Disney told the story of Robin Hood it was hard to keep them out as well. Those church mice...
Saxton and Wife.
And speaking of church mice, I seem to remember Walt finding that church mouse that helped out Ben Franklin. I think his name was...
Then there was the ones the company found down in that swamp. Of course, I'm sure if they'd gotten rid of them it would have been bad publicity with them rescuing that girl and all...
Bernard & Miss Bianca.
Then there was those mice that found themselves involved in a mystery of some sort...
Basil & Dawson.
Of course, not all these mice work together. Some of them are downright enemies. That Basil just didn't get along with this one rat...
And just when you think they've got it under control, the new branch up in Emeryville has an infestation. Luckily, at least one of them knew how to cook. Unfortunately the other one liked to eat...
Remy & Emile.
I'm sure there are more. It's hard to keep count after all...
The only conclusion I can come to is that they like them. Walt must have found something about this Mickey that he liked and everyone else sort of was won over as well.
I guess I'll call off the exterminator... they're starting to grow on me too.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Today " Enchanted " is released on DVD...
Go out and get a copy of this wonderful film. Sweet, endearing and charming to the last... and that's just describing Amy Adams herself. Seriously, it's a fantastic movie. You won't waste your time or your money.
Make it a "movie-in" night...
Monday, March 17, 2008
Question: "How many Development Executives does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
Answer: "Does it have to be a light bulb?"
- An old Film Industry joke about Development Executives.
Not all of the movies we see that suck started out that way. A film can take literally decades to gestate before going before cameras with the right team... or wrong team leading it. Hollywood is filled with giant egos, all wanting to take credit for something to validate a reason for having the title above their office door...
I've had quite a few people e-mail me over that past year or so whenever I talk about scripts or films. Many have asked me about other scripts I've read that I love. I thought I'd make a short list of several of the scripts I've read and put together what I believe are the best five scripts that Hollywood hasn't filmed. Granted, this is based on my own personal taste and if you don't like my taste you may not like these scripts. I originally thought I'd do a top ten list, but felt that it might be too many in one post. I'll instead focus on these five. If there's enough interest I'll add to the list with another five.
So without further ado...
Captain Blood - Screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh
PITCH: Think "Gladiator" set in the age of pirating. A swashbuckling epic that took the great 1935 film by director Michael Curtiz starring Errol Flynn into a much more gritty realization. Unlike "Pirates," there are no cursed, ghost pirates or giant, mythic sea creatures... only cursed men and high seas action. A doctor named Peter Blood is sold into slavery and put to work in Port Royal. Spanish pirates attack the unprepared Port Royal, Blood and other prisoners escape while the pirates attack is happening and take their galleon with them. The Pirates are quickly captured by the British. They set a path for a prisoner island filled with many more like themselves and then begin a pirating career on the open ocean that leads Blood back toward justice and redemption against the man responsible for his fate.
STATUS: Dead and buried. This was in development before Disney or anyone else thought about turning "Pirates of the Caribbean" into a film. The movie was to star a very career hot, at the time, Alec Baldwin. It went through various revisions and Frank Darabond did the later versions. Not a bad person to do a rewrite of your work, if you ask me. With the box office bomb "Cutthroat Island" in the mid 90's, pirate movies became "persona non grata" and the film languished for a while before Suits had it walk the plank...
Nevaland - Screenplay by Kevin Lewis & Troy Scott
PITCH: Think of "Peter Pan" meets "Romeo & Juliet"(the Leonardo Decaprio film version) with the action from "The Fast and the Furious" thrown in. This modern day retelling of the classic story by J. M. Barrie is set in contemporary New York during Christmas time. It's an enchanting love story about a young girl named Wendy from the New York burrows that meets a young, edgy party bad-boy named Peter who is on the run from some gang members working for a night club owner with one hand, one hook and a vendetta against him. He takes Wendy into his world which involves nightclubs, wild chases and a romantic night filled with romance and adventure on the island of Manhattan. Get it? As Long Island is a motiff for Neverland? A truly great read. A clever reinvention that's fast, fresh and perfect for todays market.
STATUS: Development Hell. I particularly loved the cast that was attached or rumored to be with this script. Samuel L. Jackson was connected with the Hook/Nightclub Owner character and if you've read the script he would've been dead-on. There was talk of Hayden Christensen as the Peter character, Rosario Dawson as the daughter of a rival nightclub owner named Lily, and Rachel Lee Cook for a punker pal of Pete's nicknamed Tink. Oh well...
Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula - Screenplay by Michael B. Valle
PITCH: Think literally Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula. Everything that "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" got wrong, this script got right. It takes two classic characters from the turn of the century, that occupied a similar place and has them meet. Taking place in 1891, it involves a great deal of characters from both books and has Holmes investigating a series of murders as Dracula has made it back to London. Holmes, a man of absolute logic has to come to grip with the fact that the criminal he's hunting doesn't correspond to his "elementary" view of the facts. Many of the characters that populate the novels of each book are here... including that "Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty" as well. I love, love, love this script. There is not a day goes by when I go to a theater that I don't wish I was setting down to watch this on the silver screen.
STATUS: Dead. But like Dracula, I pray it rises from the dead. I just don't hope some fool does a unneeded rewrite like happened on "I Am Legend" that winds up taking a great script and turning it into a good one. Chris Columbus was at one time attached to direct this. It languished for the last four or five years before dropping off the buzz meter. Sigh...
Smoke and Mirrors - Screenplay by Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler
PITCH: Think "Raiders of the Lost Ark" meets "Lawrence of Arabia" meets "Casablanca." Nice huh? It's a deeply rich, action/romance that involves a famous French magician Jean Robert Houdin(a real person, btw) who is enlisted by his government to go the French colony of Algeria to expose a local shaman that is terrifying people with his magic. He takes his young, lovely wife with him and encounters a handsome French Legionnaire that has a fancy for his wife. If you'd like to read more about the film/script check out this article I wrote last year called: Development Hell: Disney Style.
STATUS: Dead. Worse that dead, really. Dead and gone... It was a script designed to star Sean Connery. If you've read it, you'll understand that only a few people could do this roll. With Connery retired it's harder to find someone with his charisma that could fill this roll. It was on the verge of being made in the mid to late 90's and then fell back into oblivion and hasn't been seen or heard from since...
Thor - Screenplay by Mark Protosevich
PITCH: Think "Conan" meets "The 13th Warrior" set in the world of "Lord of the Rings." Wow... pretty cool, huh? The adaption of the Marvel Comics character throws away the version where he's a mild, normal man who's a disabled doctor that becomes the Mighty Thor after finding a stick and follows closer to Walt Simonson's take on the hot-headed Norse god(comic book geeks will know what I'm talking about here). In this story which takes place in an unnamed world populated by Norsemen, Thor and his brethren do battle with the Ice Giants. His brother Loki discovers a long lost secret and plots the downfall of his brother, clearing the way for his plot to seize Asgard. Primal, Macho action here. Young boys will be eating this up...
STATUS: Languishing. Marvel Comics still hasn't decided to greenlite the film. Matthew Vaughn is attached to direct it and is waiting to hear from the Marvel Suits. It is truly an epic film and will take an epic budget. I pray that they don't decide to go for a rewrite like they did with a fabulous "Fantastic Four" script by Michael France and Chris Columbus in favor of the sitcom style mediocrity that the final film turned out to be. Will it get made as is? Or will the tinkering of development executives destroy what would be a huge blockbuster for Marvel? Only the gods know...
As someone whose family comes from the Emerald Isle, let me wish each and everyone of you a Happy St. Patrick's Day from Blue Sky Disney!
As an old Irish Proverb says:
"May you be in Heaven before the Devil knows you're dead."
And may the luck of the Irish be upon you...
Have a very, very good day and don't forget to wear something green!
Sunday, March 16, 2008
And lastly, we come to the my final "Above the Title" post...
Or is it?
It's a great artform that we don't see very much of anymore...
That is, until this fall when the new batch starts. Two or three new shorts a year will be produced. If you want more after seeing these new ones I'd suggest sending an e-mail or snail mail or if you have the dime then call them up and tell them how well you enjoyed the new cartoons(presuming you do, of course) and want to see more. Of course, you can also vote with your wallets at the box office and retail chains as well.
I hear that production of the new Disney shorts are moving along. There are a few fresh surprises ahead and a couple of old favorites that will please Disney traditionalist as well...