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Disney Magic Hour Episode #121 - Revisiting Main Street USA

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The history of Walt Disney World and Disneyland is vast and fascinating.  In the premiere episode of a new format that we will visit every other week, Ryan Wilson leads us down a trip on Main Street as we dig into the history of the road to Cinderella Castle at the opening of the park in 1971 and beyond.  From magic shops to penny arcades and more join us in the Magic Kingdom for a stroll.  

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Ryan's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

2017 featured a wealth of films from Disney that ran the gauntlet from family drama to superheroes and musicals to flights of fantasy. The films offered a lot to get excited about, across a broad range of viewer tastes, at the top of the box office, while only a few truly struggled to get traction with audiences. Picking a top three Disney films, much less a top film, of the year is a daunting enterprise, but throwing caution to the wind, here we go!

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Number 3: Born in China

Dating back to the days of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures the idea of utilizing footage of animals and their families to craft a compelling narrative has captivated hearts and minds of the viewing public. When Disneynature brought the concept back in 2007 with Earth those of us who grew up on VHS tapes of The Vanishing Prairie, The Living Desert, and Seal Island dreamed of what could be for the further of the series. There have been high and low points over the past decade, and even a slight pause in Disneynature’s annual release, but Born in China brought us one of their best to date.

The cinematography of Born in China alone is worth the price of a ticket or a picking up a copy of it for your home cinema. There are corners of China we’ve never seen captured on film in this feature as we follow red crowned cranes, chiru (antelope), pandas, golden snub-nosed monkeys, and snow leopards through more than a year in each of their lives. Director Chaun Lu deftly moves between each story, finding parallels and stark contrasts between each family group, as he builds a stirring portrait of parents and children, life and death. Meanwhile, John Krasinski’s narration does an excellent job of relaying these themes with humor and humanity.

Born in China had a short theatrical release and very little marketing for its home release, but knowing the material they had on hand didn’t stop Disneynature from creating two separate secondary and behind the scene releases, Ghosts of the Mountain and Expedition China. Overall, Born in China is a fantastic entry into the Disney’s catalog of nature documentaries.

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Number 2: Coco

For only the second time in Pixar’s history, 2017 featured two releases from the studio: Cars 3 and Coco. Both take leaps in terms of what digital animation could do. One was a love letter to Paul Newman and downtrodden racetracks in the southeast. The other brought audiences to a world of family, memories, and music that most of us aren’t familiar with, but that resonates with us so clearly.

I’m not sure what I can say about Coco that hasn’t already been stated, but this is a fantastic family film. The film wasn’t dubbed into Spanish, but rather featured a Mexican edition. It utilized music as not only a storytelling device, but placed it at the heart of our characters’ conflict. The production brought in many animators and designers of Mexican heritage to ensure that the story, cultural representations, and settings were authentic. The depth of field and layers upon layers of world building that occurred on the screen were breathtaking in their beauty, imagination, and faithfulness. The portrayal of an aging family member with a memory affliction and the ability to hold a grudge through generations were familiar to many viewers. Yet, every emotion audiences feel in Coco feels genuine and not the concoction of Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina designed to hold us emotionally hostage.

Coco is a masterpiece with only a few brush strokes that seem out of place, and even those are only visible if you are truly trying to dig out a flaw. Not only does this film speak to families with a story many of us can relate to, but it also elevates the beauty and culture of Mexico in a way we haven’t seen on screen in a very long time, and never in a Disney feature.

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Number 1: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I want to start with a quote from director Rian Johnson that sums up precisely where The Last Jedi was seeking to venture, “As kids we opened up that Star Wars action figure and it became part of our creative play. In one way, we are looking to the past and trying to capture that it is that Lucas and McQuarrie and all those designers created that inspired us. On the other hand, we know what inspired us, because we were inspired by it when we were six years old. At the end of the day, it’s not the documents in the archives. It’s not the old drawings. It’s not the old treatments. It’s not old interviews. It’s not research. The only research that really matters is reaching back to when you were six and thinking, ‘What were the things that made Star Wars feel real then – that inspired me personally?’ And the following your heart with those things.”

No Star Wars film is without its critics and detractors. Each is designed with the knowledge that no one is ever going to agree on what should happen in a galaxy far, far away, and that the massive expanse is wide for all of our ideas and fan fictions, but at the end of the day there is a single story that the creators are trying to tell. For me, personally, The Last Jedi gave me chills in just the right way. It was nothing that I expected, which we were told time and again throughout the film that we should expect the unexpected, and everything that I wanted. Arguably, it features one of the greatest explosions in the history of Star Wars, cleans up some very one-note characters, and does something no one expected: changes what we all believed was the foregone conclusion we’ve been racing towards for over forty years.

I don’t want to spoil this film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but as I told a dear friend after seeing it for the first time, The Last Jedi was a rich story that broke the mold, gave the audience new characters and ideas to consider, let many characters grow in a more natural progression than we’ve previously seen, and developed an entirely different perspective on a mythology than any we’ve seen before. The Force is strong with this one, and it was definitely the most incredible Disney entry of the year in my book.

Melyssa's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

This year was filled with many Disney films- some I highly anticipated and others that were just ones to be reviewed. However, three of these need to be chosen as my top, so I have chosen. Here are my top 3 films released by Disney this year.

 

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3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

This film was anticipated because the first one was so much fun. I was nervous that they wouldn’t keep the same level of excitement and entertainment up with the second film. And, to an extent, they did dive into a deeper emotional aspect to these characters. But it’s those emotional aspects that helped bring this film higher on my list. I never would have guessed that I would tear up when it was time to say goodbye to Yondu. That final scene was so impactful and gives you a look into Rocket as well- allowing his character to grow more too and come to terms with the fact that being connected to other people is not a sign of weakness. The battle and reconnection between Gamora and Nebula are touching, especially from a person who also has a sister. We all know that sisters have complex relationships and I loved how they were able to demonstrate the complexity without making the relationship seem fake or contrived. There was so much there but when Nebula said all she wanted was a sister was a punch that could be felt reverberating through my own relationship with my sister. The only relationship that I didn’t feel hit was between the main character and the father he seemed to be searching for since the first film. Ego, and I’m sure this was by design, never gave me a sense of safety so seeing Peter fall for his lies was disappointing- as it is any time we know that the main character is making a bad choice but they make it anyway.  Overall, the humor was still in the film- especially Baby Groot and, surprisingly, Drax. The other component of this film that wasn’t up to the level of the first movie is the music- it didn’t quite hit me the same as the first one- though I’m not sure if it’s just due to my enjoyment of the 70s versus 80s. So, because some of the film didn’t hit me quite as much as the first one, I’m placing this at number 3. I loved the look of the film- a vibrant, saturated color palette- with great characters and good humor. This did make me interested in seeing how these characters fit into Infinity War.

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2. Thor Ragnarok

This was my most anticipated film of the year- and it did not disappoint! I absolutely loved the return of a fun, humorous Thor that was here to kick butt and take names. While the best moment of the film was perhaps spoiled by trailers, I enjoyed the buddy film portion of Thor and Hulk. The fact that you get more of Hulk’s character beyond “Hulk smash!” is an added plus that makes you sort of disappointed that Banner appeared again. However, Ruffalo’s portrayal of Banner is absolutely brilliant. Again, we get a bright, saturated color palette, even while set in a space junk planet. I enjoyed Hela and how much of a threat she was as Marvel tends to flop on the villains in their films, besides Loki. So to get another destructive villain from a Thor film was another plus- and she was female! The only big miss for me was Valkyrie’s character. She was too uncaring for too long and I didn’t understand her turn to decide to help Thor. I also felt they missed the chance to: A- give her her own name and, B- give her a scene with Hela where Hela remembers she was the one to get away. I would have also loved to have seen Hela and Valkyrie have their own one on one battle on the rainbow bridge- and then have Thor come in to save Valkyrie as clearly she wouldn’t be powerful enough to stop Hela since the whole hoard of Valkyries couldn’t, but it would have been a great tension filled fight to let Valkyrie go at Hela, even for a moment. The humor brought back to this franchise helps me see where GotG fits and it makes me excited to see their entrance into The Avengers. My only other disappointment was that Loki again betrayed his brother, but since that is his nature, it can’t be that much of a detraction from the film. Overall, this was the most fun I’ve had in the theater this year. I look forward to Thor’s place in Infinity War and see where he brings Asgard.

 

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1. Coco

Pixar highly delivered here and created a film that hit me in a way no other film has. Typically I don’t want to do things like break down themes of a film or dive into the music of a score. However, this all changed with Coco. I was astounded by the look of the world they created- the colors, the textures, the layers of beauty both in the “real world” and the land of the dead were another level up for Pixar- as tends to happen each year. What made this film stand out for me was the use of songs throughout the film- something Pixar isn’t typically known for. While they have hits with Jessie’s song from Toy Story 2 and Married Life from UP, there was no other film where the characters sang a song that reverberated to my core. Beyond Remember Me, the impact of Mi Proud Corazon gets me every time I play that soundtrack. The nuisance of La Llorona was a deep dive that I sought out and was floored by both the simplicity of including this song and how it was included. I haven’t played a soundtrack on repeat like this since Moana (which is Disney who is known for their musical films). Beyond the music and the look of the film was the character development. The simple theme of family was brought to audiences in such a new way- and via a completely different culture than we are used to. And the fact that Pixar decided to take on this monster undertaking- portraying a different culture- and to have done it so well is amazing. Disney has a history of either white-washing characters of color or missing some points when taking on different cultures that credit needs to be afforded to the Pixar team for their success in this endeavor. And, while the theme of family is one of Pixar’s popular themes, to have it show that family can sometimes be wrong or misunderstand in their good intentions, was such a modern take that really hit with me. It thread the line of who is right and who is wrong and how neither are either. I cannot say enough good things about Coco- and this is why it is my number 1 if the year. Congrats Pixar- you’ve done it again.

 

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Honorable Mention- Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Many people would probably be shocked that this wasn’t on a top whatever list and others would feel justified in their hatred of the movie that it is absent from the list. However, this film is more than just love it or hate it for me. It’s a complex thing that isn’t shaded by a history with Star Wars and its cannon of characters. Unfortunately I’ve only seen it once and it is something that probably needs to be seen more than that. But, I’ve also only seen Thor and GotG once and they stuck with me more than Star Wars. Even so, I want to dive a little bit into why this movie wasn’t in my top 3.

Star Wars wasn’t a part of my childhood and I actually saw the prequels long before I watched the original trilogy. I’ve seen each movie once each with maybe some repeats for parts of the prequels. But, since I had seen these movies “in order”, they don’t feel like prequels, though I had known Anakin was going to turn eventually, they felt just like the first movies in a series. I also didn’t retain information from the movie- I only know names like Naboo because I’ve been on Star Tours often with Star Wars nerds. I barely understood what was going on with the Senate and the Emperor. I don’t understand fully why the Jedis are mainly gone or why they were gone (before viewing TLJ and having some deeper discussions and reading a lot of write ups). I didn’t get how the Jedi and the Sith were so divided and how strict the Jedi had become in their ideology about love and feelings- maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, maybe it never really sank in, maybe this is how someone who just watches the movies and doesn’t absorb the literature around the topic can still enjoy the product without having a huge emotional investment in the results.

With all that being said- I didn’t get the reaction to TLJ from the fans. I didn’t realize it “turned the franchise on its head” because that history wasn’t there for me. I thought the characters were great- many of them underwent big development since TFA and I enjoyed where they were going. I thought the introduction of the new characters was great- and I’m loving the diversity we are getting with the cast. Some of the visuals were beyond breathtaking and the comedy was fun. I thought the movie fell perfectly in line with what I’m used to in many sci-fi/fantasy books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen. I’m happy that Rey wasn’t revealed to be particularly special, though I would have liked some type of connection- as is typical in many fantasy series. I thought there were parts that were a little lengthy and I thought other parts were unexplained or too short. Overall, I look forward to watching it again, but it didn’t strike me the way the other films in my top list had. I do think that the lack of a “history” with the franchise and characters does take away some of the hard emotional response from me and I was able to view this as just another movie. While I don’t mind this, I find many fans rely on this change in cannon to fuel their arguments and this can be frustrating. Tell me more about the character development-for both the new and old characters; talk to me about the visual style; and speak to the pace of the film. And understand that, while I don’t see this movie the same as you, doesn’t invalidate my feelings toward the film.

Pete's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

Another year gone, another year of film has passed.  2017 offered up a little bit of everything from the House of Mouse but what really got me excited were the new takes on old formulas that were offered up.  A thunder God getting to smile, an old Jedi learning new lessons and a land of the dead being given life, here are my Top 3 Disney Films of 2017.

Number 3. COCO

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PIXAR is a studio of renown but the last several years have been more of a mixed affair starting with CARS 2 back in 2011.  Since then we have seem some cracks in the studios run.  In the seven films put forth since and including CARS 2, only one really stands out in 2015's INSIDE OUT.  While I found CARS 3 and FINDING DORY enjoyable, it's nothing impactful as PIXAR has come to be known for.  Then along came COCO.  The reveal to the art style for COCO definitely caught my attention but following that were uninspired trailer spots that then receded my excitement.  

To my delight though as I sat in the theater and the film began, all of my concerns were set aside rather quickly and what followed was PIXAR's best film since TOY STORY 3.  The tale of Miguel and his family is one for the ages presented in jaw dropping artwork depicting the Land of the Dead combined with beautiful music that makes COCO a semi-musical.  It's not a musical by the popular definition but music sung by characters on screen is new for PIXAR and makes that part of the formula extremely vital to the film as a whole.  If the music does not hit, the film falls apart as just another "family strong" storyline.  The music and setting though do more than enough to offer up a different experience from the folks at PIXAR. I have minor issues with plot reveals in one specific spot but nothing to throw off the enjoyment and pleasure that was COCO.  A much welcomed high entry to the PIXAR library.  

Number 2. THOR : Ragnarok

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THOR : Ragnarok was the most fun I had in a movie theater this year.  It was my most anticipated film of 2017 and did not disappoint.  

Director Taika Waititi took the featured Avenger who was having the most trouble finding a solo audience, flipped the whole thing upside-down and let us laugh at gods and monsters for a change.  Chris Hemsworth has had the chance here and there in previous Marvel films to crack wise but never before has the Aussie actor seemed so comfortable in the role as the God of Thunder.  Villains are a soft spot for Marvel films with rare exceptions but Cate Blanchett's Hela is just the right mix of dangerous, mart, snark and sexy.  Expanded roles for Idris Elba's Heimdall is a welcome upgrade as well.  Combine that all with The Hulk making this a near buddy cop film with Ruffalo tapping into the child like demeanor of the big green machine, Jeff Goldblum stealing every scene he is present for, Loki being Loki, capping it off with director Waititi voicing rock creature Korg and you have a rollicking space adventure with the sense of humor that Marvel needed.  A silly sense of humor.  That is not enough though so it's good that the action is sharp and entertaining.  

For my money it's the best entry since CAPTAIN AMERICA : WINTER SOLDIER and the fact that the tone of these two films could not be further apart is what makes me happy to state so.  

Number 1. STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI

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What Rian Johnson has done to pave new roads in a 40 year old franchise is the ballsiest move that anyone could have done to help the future of a galaxy far, far away.  In that, he crafted the best film in the series since EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and my favorite Disney release of 2017.

Deconstructing previous beliefs is incredibly difficult and more so when the history of such is so embedded.  We were always told the Jedi were on the side of right.  And they are but maybe the way those beliefs have been executed were not the best path.  Through 7 previous films we have seen the way of the Jedi lead to some horrible outcomes of evil rising, conquering and then falling only to rise to higher power the next time.  It's all there in the films, even a share of hypocrisy.  Remember when Obi-Wan told Anakin that "only a Sith deals in absolutes".  That is an absolute statement itself.  Palpatine was right next to them the entire time he built an Empire while corrupting the most powerful young Jedi in the galaxy.  Yoda abandoned the fight after being disarmed.  They were all taken surprise by Order 66 and mostly died because of it.  Something there is wrong and Rian Johnson takes steps to assess the errors of the past and carve a new Jedi Order with Luke Skywalker being the spark to reignite not only the Jedi itself but the Rebellion as a whole. 

At the center of this conflict are two young, powerful individuals still trying to find their own way and putting too much dependence of outside figures of authority.  Kylo Ren and Rey are starting to become their own people and in it find a connection between themselves.  The scenes where they communicate through the force as the films best.  It's really all quite fascinating in a film following THE FORCE AWAKENS that was criticized for being "too safe" and doing nothing new.  

Beyond all of that we have Poe learning to be a leader and not just a hero, Finn no longer running and becoming a Rebel, and General Leia guiding a new generation of leadership into what appears to be a situation with no good outcome.  Johnson takes beats from John Ford's STAGECOACH in the long chase, and visual cues from Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS while Rey is practicing with a light saber while making the most visually arresting entry since EMPIRE.  There are some off moments of humor but a few seconds of unaffecting humor does not make a dent that matters.  Honestly, I can go on for a while about this film but will spare you my rambling.  Suffice to say that THE LAST JEDI came and changed the game when it comes to STAR WARS.  It tells us we need to move forward to keep growing and shows us a new hope that now exists.  It is my favorite Disney release of 2017.  

Here is hoping 2018 is even better. 

 

 

 

Disney Magic Hour Episode #116 - PIXAR Bracket Tournament and AVENGERS INFINITY WAR Reaction

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PIXAR has been a seal of excellence since it introduced the world to Woody and Buzz back in 1995.  Since then there has been a run of quality as few other studios in history have ever known.  True, some have not clicked, but the overall quality of PIXAR cannot be denied.  What about up against each other though?  Does TOY STORY stand tall against THE INCREDIBLES?  Did FINDING DORY hit the mark more than FINDING NEMO?  How does newcomer, COCO, fare against the old guard?  Why does CARS 2 exist?  The only way to properly tackle this is with a bunch of friends and a big ol' bracket tourney! 19 films.  1 winner.  

We also delve into what we thought about the trailer for AVENGERS INFINITY WAR! Lots to do! Lets go! It's showtime!

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Head over to YouTube and check out POGO's page HERE to view all his music videos.  You can also reach Pogo on Twitter @NickBertke and at pogomix.net. This week's track was THERE YOU ARE!!