Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Silver Screen Review – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

July 16, 2009
Image © Warner Bros.

The sixth exciting visit for moviegoers into Hogwarts executes its intricate story cleverly with a parade of smart emotional ups and downs.

By Blake

Originally posted July 16, 2009.

Acceptance of death is a rocky obstacle to overcome. Once one has passed on, family and friends are left to continue on with their lives, which is not often an easy task to take on. Yet Harry Potter has had to do just that not once, but twice so far by the time the sixth volume in his epic tale, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, begins its story. Struggling to find himself, Harry relies on the strong companionship he has with his friends as he begins a journey he knows he must fulfill, and audiences are taken along on that incredible voyage with him.

In the film, the wizarding community has accepted what they feared was happening: Voldemort has returned, and his cronies are causing massive destruction to both wizards and Muggles. As Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe) returns to his sixth year of studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), he sets out along with Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to learn about Voldemort’s past to better understand how the dark wizard can be defeated. As far as school is concerned, Harry becomes very successful in his potions class thanks to the comments written in his textbook’s previous owner, the unnamed “half-blood prince.” Meanwhile, Harry believes that his schoolmate and rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) may be pursuing a mission for Voldemort and is very curious to find out what it is.

Dumbledore and Harry. Image © Warner Bros.

It sure sounds like a cheery tale, doesn’t it? Thankfully, the film takes on an overall lighthearted tone to relieve its dark storyline. Comedy (Luna Lovegood rocks) is delved into on more than one occasion, as is romance in several poignant sequences.

Luna Lovegood. Image © Warner Bros.

The film’s execution of its story is done very nicely, working out several details differently than in the book. Overall this technique works for the best, but at times, especially towards the beginning (where are the Dursleys?) and the climax, it depreciates the film by cutting a few substantial sequences that would have been welcome (though aren’t missed if you don’t know they’re not there). Differences from the book of how a few plot points are delivered also add another level of mystery to the movie. This also simplifies the audiences’ confusion and allows viewers to better understand what’s going on. There’s also a hoopla of foreshadowing instanced many times throughout the film.

What really made the film extra special for me was the presence of Ron and Hermione by Harry’s side for support throughout the entire movie. Lately they’ve sort of taken a backseat while Harry interacts with new characters, but they definitely (and thankfully) have a larger focus in Half-Blood Prince.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry try to find out who the half-blood prince is. Image © Warner Bros.

Emotion is a component that comes across clearly in Half-Blood Prince. By now (if viewers have kept up with previous volumes), they know the characters relatively well. Due to this, audiences sort of automatically know how Harry feels, for example, whenever the subject arises of his parents’ deaths or when other characters reminisce about his parents’ personality traits. Half-Blood Prince does a great job at taking that prior knowledge further to help those that aren’t so familiar with the story to also relate to what’s happening and feel those same emotions. Is it right on-par with the same emotional punch as the books? Almost. The book version of this particular volume conveyed such a beautiful ending, even with its somber tone, and the film grasps that quite well, given that the audience doesn’t have access to what the characters are thinking.

Ron and Hermione. Image © Warner Bros.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is very pleasing. Another rewarding adventure into an imaginative world through a well-thought-out storyline keeps audiences on the edge of their seats and at the same time allows them to laugh and sympathize. The film also sets the stage excellently for what’s yet to come for Harry and friends as they continue their marvelous tale. Those that aren’t familiar with previous installments in the series might not be able to follow along easily, but those that have kept up are in for an amazing experience.

How dow I rank Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will most likely please: Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teens – Young Adults

By Blake; posted July 16, 2009. All images © Warner Bros.


Silver Screen Review – ‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’

June 25, 2009
Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

A great cast, a creative plot, and fun sequences make the 2nd ‘Night at the Museum’ an exhilarating ride.

By Blake

Originally posted June 25, 2009.

The central theme flowing throughout Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, the new sequel to the hit 2006 film featuring Ben Stiller as a museum night guard who endures the museum’s creatures and exhibits coming to life at nighttime, emphasizes enjoying life and having fun at what you’re doing. This message is conveyed quite straightforward through the characters’ dialogue, but also by demonstrating the adventure of life through an overall fun experience.

Ben Stiller as Larry Daley in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

The success of the first Night at the Museum was obvious for a sequel, but its storyline hadn’t left room for much to be retold. If there were to be a sequel, its plot would likely be unneeded and repetitive to its predecessor. However, as underdog as it may seem, Battle of the Smithsonian does exactly what I doubted it could: convey a creatively endearing plot that presses itself forward without feeling like we’re just seeing a remake. The story consists of the mannequins, displays, and artifacts of the American Museum of Natural History in New York being shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Since the tablet that makes the exhibits come to life at night is expected to stay in New York, former night guard Larry Daley (played by Ben Stiller) sets out to return his friends back to New York. Eventually he reaches Washington and the tablet ends up getting there as well, resulting in the entire Smithsonian coming to life, threatening the group’s return home.

Amy Adams really made the movie shine for me. I was unaware that she was even in the film until the movie had been released, and even then I didn’t know she had a main role. Playing Amelia Earhart, she delivers a quirky, determined performance for the confident historic pilot and even has the speech and slang phrases of Earhart down-pat.

Amy Adams (left) as Amelia Earhart and Ben Stiller as Larry Daley in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

The reprise performances of Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as miniatures were also enjoyable, each having a real sense for who their character was and what was driving their character to press on.

Steve Coogan (left) as Octavius and Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Image © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

Time is an element that comes across well as the plot progresses. Most of the film takes place in a single night, so a lot of the movie is delivered in a real-time format (as opposed to showing a lapse of time between scenes). Since the characters have a goal that they must vitally achieve (to get the exhibits back home before dawn), the element of time communicates well the conflict of the pressure that the characters hold, and the pressure that the audience also feels, too.

As far as sequels go, this one surprisingly relays its prior events from the first Night at the Museum relatively well, catching the audience up quite quickly. I’d go as far to say that if I didn’t know that the movie was a sequel and I hadn’t seen the first film, I wouldn’t have realized that it was a sequel. It helps to have the background information from the first movie to help guide the plot and characters along, but Battle of the Smithsonian could have potentially worked out as a stand-alone film by itself, so I complement the filmmakers for creating a fun story that relies on itself.

I can imagine that the movie might have been a challenge to pen, as it relies heavily on comedic dialogue in many scenes. Ultimately the long, drawn-out scenes with nothing but talking are sometimes annoying, sometimes hilarious. The writing does an admirable job at portraying its story’s characters, and a large portion of the film’s comedy comes from puns, parodies, and surprise appearances. Everyone from Oscar the Grouch to three cast members of The Office are shown, and I was guessing all throughout the movie what other people I recognized. Even the Jonas Brothers show up, though not playing themselves.

There are few moments, however, that seem to take cues from other productions rather than parody them. One scene seems very reminiscent of National Treasure while another had me flashing back to Blue’s Clues.

As a whole, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian presents a creative journey that will satisfy moviegoers. Families concerned about appropriate content should note that a few curse words are used, but they’re very seldom spoken and are the only inappropriate elements of the movie. Additionally, there are a few frightening characters (there is a heap of villains this time around) and scenes that might be too scary for those that are easily afraid. Some of the jokes get old, but overall the film gives its audiences a whimsical adventure that reminds them to make time for fun in their lives.

How do I rank Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian will most likely please: Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13)

By Blake; posted June 25, 2009. All images © 20th Century Fox/21 Laps Entertainment/1492 Pictures.

Silver Screen Review – ‘Up’

June 3, 2009
Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

A clever work enriched by colorfully comical characters, magnificently creative sequences, and a winning story driven by emotion, Up superbly delivers a great film and a heartfelt message.

By Blake

Originally posted June 3, 2009.

Most people have at least one desire that they’d like to fulfill before they pass away. It could be anything from settling down in a quiet retirement community to participating in some sort of extreme journey. But establishing a home in South America with a view of a colossal waterfall outside your porch? That would be a little bizarre. Not for Carl Fredricksen, though.

In Up, the tenth film from Pixar Animation Studios, a lonely elderly man named Carl Fredricksen dreams of living next to Paradise Falls in South America and experiencing the “spirit of adventure.” Carl decides that the best way to do so is to fly, by attaching a hoopla of balloons to his house.

When he arrives in South America, Carl is far from the ideal peace and quietness he had pictured. Everything from a stowaway wilderness scout named Russell to a hilarious dog named Dug (who has a special collar that makes his thoughts auditory) to a crowd-pleasing bird that’s trying reach her separated babies all deter Carl from the relaxing living he was supposed to have reached in Paradise Falls.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

With such wacky situations as those, Up gets pretty zany at times. Many sequences are filled with hilarious craziness that amounts to a lot of laughs and plenty of giggles, especially from the tinier set of audience members. Additionally, there aren’t that many characters to keep track of. By having only about five main characters, each one that is presented gets developed very well. By the time the film is through, each of their personalities has been excellently portrayed to the audience.

From left: Dug the dog, Kevin the bird, Russell the wilderness scout, and Carl Fredrickson in Up. Each of the characters’ personalities gets developed very well, and their own distinctive traits are all featured just right in this picture. Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Not only are the characters’ distinctive traits communicated well, but they also have a definite drive for their actions. Perhaps more than any other film I’ve seen, Up’s characters have a very emotional motivation behind what they’re doing. Carl’s entire reason for heading to Paradise Falls is to fulfill a personal issue that’s very important to him, and that reason is what keeps him going and what causes him to press forward throughout the entire film.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Up conveys several impactful messages that relate on a number of levels, some subtly hinted at and others clearly spoken out by the characters. Similar to Cars, in which Lightning McQueen learns that life is a journey, Up includes Carl (and the audience too, for that matter) realizing that some of life’s most important epiphanies and fondest memories occur when we’re looking for something else. Perhaps the most powerful message of Up is that you can’t rely on material, tangible “things” or items to get you through life. Carl strives (with much difficulty) to hold on to his symbolic house, which represents so many of his special memories and so much of his lifelong achievements, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a house. In parallel, when you really look at the big picture, it’s the people surrounding you and the relationships made with them that matter most.

Lastly (yes, it gets pretty deep), time is also an issue covered in Up, particularly in valuing the time spent with others. Life on Earth doesn’t last forever, and it can be gone at any time, so don’t take any part of it for granted.

Image (C) Disney/Pixar.

Up is a very special masterpiece. It’s not often that a film rolls along with such an excellent story containing such endearing characters and is able to deliver a hilarious comedy while still attaining a very powerful sense of emotion and impact. That’s what Up succeeds at doing magnificently.

How do I rank Up? (Bolded is my choice.)

  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Up will most likely please: Disney Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Adults

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted June 3, 2009. All images (C) Disney/Pixar.

DVD Review – “Bolt”

April 4, 2009

The fantastic Bolt comes to DVD with a new short highlighting its release.

By Blake

Originally posted April 4, 2009.

I absolutely love Bolt. The characters are some of the best Disney has developed in years, the sophisticated animation sequences match that of any Pixar production, and the overall appeal of the movie, complete with its engaging plot and winning heart, blended together with a splash of comedy, make it an excellent film.

Bolt’s impact since its initial release in November has been quite the to-do, at least for a Disney animated film in today’s day and age. The line to meet the film’s three main characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been consistently long, the movie gained a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song (for “I Thought I Lost You”), Miley Cyrus was nominated a Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Voice From an Animated Movie for her role as Penny, and the film was nominated for Best Animated Movie at the Academy-Awards, Golden Globes, Annie Awards, and the Kids’ Choice Awards. And the public absolutely adores Rhino.

The premise of Bolt (about 96 minutes) surrounds the titular dog headlining his own TV show that he thinks is real-life. Naturally, when a cliff-hanger episode of the show leaves his owner, Penny, in the clutches of the bad guy, Bolt heads off on a trek to save her, thinking she’s really been taken away. He then finds himself shipped to New York, where he enlists the help of Mittens – an independent alley cat – and Rhino – a hamster, and Bolt’s biggest fan – to travel back to Hollywood.

Bolt encompasses all areas that a film should contain – it uses its brilliant characters to not only touch the viewer emotionally, but also provide a heap of laughs. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new line of Disney animated classics headed our way. You can read my full review of Bolt here to read more of my thoughts about the film itself, but here I’ll also be reviewing the DVD bonus material.

Bolt Deluxe Edition
Total Approx. Disc Running Time: about 132 minutes (about 2 hours and 12 minutes)
Highlight of Disc: Bolt Feature Film
Highlight Runner-Up: Super Rhino animated short

Like the High School Musical 3: Senior Year DVD, Bolt has come to DVD in two separate editions. The first contains one disc, which includes the feature film and a bonus short. The Deluxe Edition contains two discs – one for the movie, the bonus short, and several other supplemental features and another disc for the digital copy of the movie.

Bonus Features

The only bonus on the standard edition of the film, Super Rhino (about 4 minutes), is an all-new short from Walt Disney Animation Studios. I was very surprised, yet also delightfully pleased, that a new Bolt short was created for its DVD release. The short has the ever-popular crowd favorite Rhino saving Bolt and Penny from the Green-Eyed Man. It includes hints of the original film cleverly throughout, and my only complaint is that it’s not a little longer. Nonetheless, I wasn’t expecting a short in the first place, so the fact that Super Rhino was even created has me happy that the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios see the potential that Bolt, and more specifically Rhino, has.

All of the other bonus features described from this point are only available on the Deluxe Edition DVD and the Blu-ray release, not the standard DVD edition.

Next, two deleted scenes (about 7 minutes) are shown, and include optional introductions with directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard. The first deleted scene involves two alley dogs confronting Bolt in Las Vegas, while the other has Rhino flowing down a river and calling for Bolt’s help. Had either of them been included, they would have altered the way that some of the pivotal moments in the film would have been portrayed in its final version.

Two bonuses are found under the “Music & More” section. The first is the music video for “I Thought I Lost You” (about 2 minutes), which features clips of Miley Cyrus and John Travolta singing in a recording studio, along with clips from Bolt shown in-between the recording footage. The next bonus is “In Session with John Travolta and Miley Cyrus” (about 1 minute), which includes brief interviews with the two about their feelings towards the song.

The first featurette under the “Backstage Disney” sub-menu is “A New Breed of Directors: The Filmmakers’ Journey” (about 5 minutes). It mainly consists of interviews with the directors of Bolt – Chris Williams and Byron Howard – as well as one from executive producer John Lasseter. Also included are glimpses into the Walt Disney Animation Studios (formerly Walt Disney Feature Animation) building, which is something that I had never gotten a peek into before. Usually we’re toured all around Pixar’s studio, so it was nice to see what the other side of Disney animation’s offices look like and what wacky happenings occur there, including animators rolling in a giant hamster ball through the hallway.

Next is “Act, Speak! The Voices of Bolt (about 10 minutes). It’s a rundown of the main characters’ voices in the film, plus interviews with the voice actors as well as directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard, executive producer John Lasseter, producer Clark Spencer, and character animator Amy Smeed. Highlighted are Miley Cyrus as Penny, John Travolta as Bolt, Susie Essman as Mittens, James Lipton as the TV director, and Mark Walton as Rhino. Here we find out that Walton is a Disney Studio story artist and originally did the voice of Rhino in the early storyboard version of the film, and was soon cast as the permanent voice of the hilarious hamster.

Lastly, there’s “Creating the World of Bolt (about 7 minutes), which is a look at the unique style of the film, which features CGI backgrounds that are meant to look like hand-created paintings. The end result looks beautiful in the film, and here we see interviews with the people that created that look, including art director Paul Felix (who also created Mickey Mouse’s 80th anniversary portrait) and director of look and lighting Adolph Lusinsky. Also discussed are the different techniques and research that was used to create the different types of lighting for each of the locations featured in the film, ranging from New York to Las Vegas.

Concluding the disc are sneak peeks (about 11 minutes). They include previews for Schoolhouse Rock! Earth DVD; Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray; The Black Cauldron Special Edition DVD; the Disney Channel movie Princess Protection Program; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs DVD and Blu-ray; Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure DVD and Blu-ray; the TV channel Disney XD; The Princess and the Frog; Lilo & Stitch Big Wave Edition DVD; Bedtime Stories DVD and Blu-ray; Disney Blu-ray titles; and Disney Movie Rewards. The big surprise here for me was The Black Cauldron being re-released, which I had not heard of until I saw the preview.


The DVD’s menus have various stills used as backgrounds, except for the main menu, which includes animation of Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino on a train. A transparent grayish rectangle surrounds the remote control’s selection on the screen, making it easy to see what you’re choosing.

Over the past several months, most Disney DVD releases have not included a hardcopy DVD guide to map out the disc(s)’ contents. Additionally, for the most part there is no art or pictures adorning the actual discs, but instead a blank mirror. Both of these are minor adjustments, however, and I guess if something’s got to be cut back, I’d rather it be these than less bonus features.

Wrapping It Up

Bolt is a great combination of classic and enduring characters, breathtaking animation, and a magnificent story that all culminate together to create a wonderful film. Hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come in the future in Disney animation.

The movie itself is fantastic, though its DVD presentation seems to be less satisfying. This seems especially odd because the film certainly has plenty of fascinating history and background to elaborate on with bonus features, though that history is not shown here. What would have been really cool would be a look at what Bolt was originally supposed to be – American Dog. The basic storyline was supposedly going to be the same as the film’s final version, though several characters and locations were to be completely different. It would have pretty neat to see what the film was initially supposed to be like. Additionally, most of the bonus features that were included seem to be relatively short, as if there was something more to them. An audio commentary would have been welcomed, possibly even with Mark Walton as an in-character Rhino (like the hilarious audio commentary with Rutt and Tuke on the Brother Bear DVD).

However, I do thank whoever decided to create a new short to be included with Bolt’s DVD release, especially since I wasn’t even expecting it to be there in the first place. Super Rhino was definitely the highlight of the bonus features, and I’m very glad that not only a new short was included, but also that it was all about Rhino. Thankfully, Super Rhino is the one bonus feature that’s included on the standard single-disc edition of Bolt, so those who opt out of the Deluxe Edition still get to see it.

Unless you really want a digital copy of the film, I recommend the standard single-disc edition of the DVD. You’ll get the feature film and Super Rhino, which was the best of the included bonuses. Overall, Bolt is the best non-Pixar Disney animated film since Lilo & Stitch and has me anticipating what Disney has up their sleeves next.

How do I rank the Bolt DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)
Brilliant movie + Good bonus features =
  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

The Bolt DVD will most likely please: Disney Fans – Dog Owners – Animation Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13)

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted April 4, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – "Pinocchio" 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition

March 24, 2009
For the first time in ten years, Walt Disney’s second full-length animated film is released on DVD, and its already wonderful story grouped with its excellent new restoration and bonus material make the magical set well worth the wait.

By Blake

Originally posted March 24, 2009.

When thinking of top-notch, best-of-the-best Disney animated classics, Pinocchio is certainly near the top of the list. Its compelling story, touching lessons, breathtaking animation, superb character development, and impactful music all play key roles in culminating together a wonderful film experience.

The last time the movie was released was on a single-disc edition as part of Disney’s Gold Collection in 1999 and the movie’s only theme park experience is the Pinocchio’s Daring Journey ride at three Disney parks worldwide. So, it’s been a while since Pinocchio has had its time in the spotlight.

Fortunately, with the arrival of the new two-disc 70th (that’s right, 70th) Anniversary Platinum Edition the film has been given, an entire new generation can experience Pinocchio in a stellar set that has plenty to celebrate about.

Featuring many great new bonuses that include an audio commentary, a making-of featurette, and much more, the set is definitely worth its modest value.

Disc One
Total Approx. Running Time: About 289 minutes (about 4 hours and 49 minutes)
Highlight of Disc: Pinocchio feature film
Highlight Runner-Up: Audio Commentary

The movie itself (about 88 minutes) looks stellar. Its digital restoration has dignified outlines and pleasing colors without overdoing its enhancements. The movie tells of an elderly toymaker named Gepetto who lives with his cat, Figaro, and his goldfish, Cleo. When Gepetto wishes upon a star for his newest toy, a wooden puppet named Pinocchio, to become alive, the Blue Fairy grants him his wish. However, for Pinocchio to become a real boy, he must demonstrate bravery and honesty. To aid him through his temptations, Jiminy Cricket is named Pinocchio’s conscience. Although there are plenty of diversions that try to get in the way of Pinocchio’s goal of becoming a real boy, through these distractions he learns life lessons and in the end Disney magic shines through and the power of dreams stands true.

I hadn’t seen the film in a while, and I suppose I had never noticed until now just how dark it is. Yes, it’s a Disney film, but it certainly has its frightening moments. About the first third of film is just one sequence, while the rest of the film progresses at a faster pace with scenes that have to be some of Disney’s scariest. Just when you think Pinocchio would have learned his lesson to not make foolish mistakes any longer, a new temptation is given in to and a new eerie situation with its own set of villainous characters is introduced. The count of villains almost reaches the amount of good guys.

The film is also not very socially appropriate in terms of today, either. Pinocchio and other characters are shown smoking and drinking. A notice is shown before the film warning viewers that they should not take the same actions that the characters do, as both smoking and drinking can cause serious illnesses and side effects.

Those are really the only negative comments I have to contribute about the movie, though. The film is brimming with dazzling animation, superb for its time and featuring amazing special effects, particularly in the infamous Monstro sequence. Additionally, the film’s music earned it two Academy Awards for best score and best song, earned by “When You Wish Upon a Star,” somewhat of a theme song for the Walt Disney Company today.

After the movie itself comes the first of its bonus features.

Under “Music & More” is the music video for “When You Wish Upon a Star” (about 3 minutes) performed by Meaghan Jette Martin from the Disney Channel movie Camp Rock. The music video is a current remixed version of the classic song, and features Martin gazing upon stars with other teens.

Also under “Music & More” is Disney’s Song Selection (about 11 minutes), which allows the viewer to see the movie’s five songs consecutively with the lyrics on screen. In this case, Pinocchio’s songs are enjoyable and the Song Selection feature was a nice inclusion.

Next is “Backstage Disney,” where we’re treated to an audio commentary (about 88 minutes) of the movie with film historian (and host of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD’s) Leonard Maltin, current Walt Disney Studios animator Eric Goldberg, and film historian J.B. Kaufman. Each of the three contributors provides a very entertaining commentary, filling us in on many tidbits of trivia throughout the course of the film. In addition to Maltin, Goldberg, and Kaufman, throughout the commentary we hear clips of audio from some of the late animators that worked on Pinocchio, including Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Ken Anderson, and Wolfgang Reitherman.

The one inclusion under disc one’s “Games & Activities” is Pinocchio’s Matter Of Facts, a version of the movie where pop-up trivia facts appear on the screen as you watch the film. They mostly feature some background about the movie’s location, animal counterparts, props, and animation. Appearing about once a minute, the orange-font facts are sometimes difficult to see. The facts are overall geared for families, and those wanting a more insightful look at the making of the film should watch the audio commentary.

Concluding disc one are sneak peeks (about 11 minutes). The set includes previews for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Platinum Edition DVD & Blu-ray (the first look at this upcoming title), Up, Disney Blu-ray, Disney Movie Rewards, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure DVD & Blu-ray, My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too DVD, Schoolhouse Rock! Earth DVD, Disney Parks, and Bolt DVD & Blu-ray.

Disc Two

Total Approx. Running Time: About 101 minutes (about 1 hour and 41 minutes)
Highlight of Disc: No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio
Highlight Runner-Up: Deleted Scenes

The only feature under disc two’s “Games & Activities” is Pinocchio’s Puzzle Game (time varies). In the game, the player is trying to complete a series of six puzzles to finish a new music box Gepetto has been working on. Once all six puzzles are completed, the music box is finished. Each puzzle has about ten pieces, and often I was filling in the pieces based on their shape and not the visual on the piece, since they were a bit too small to actually see the picture on them. Jiminy Cricket is the narrator of the game, and encourages the player on throughout the puzzles. The game does get a bit repetitive by the time the player reaches the sixth puzzle, but the game will most likely entertain the elementary-aged set for a while.

Next, a hoopla of bonuses await under disc two’s “Backstage Disney” section. First is “No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (about 56 minutes), which covers just about every aspect that went into creating the film. Everything including initial concepts for the movie, animation, special effects, voice acting, and music are all featured. Interviews include animation historians Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck, the late animators Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston, and even the voice of Pinocchio, Dickie Jones. The making-of is very delightful and is one of the highlights of the DVD set.

Next are three deleted scenes (about 10 minutes). Excellently presented (especially considering their age), each scene is brought to the viewer through storyboard drawings from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. A narrator provides a background for each scene, tells where it was to have been used in the film, and shares when it was created. The first scene is “The Story of the Grandfather Tree” and involves Gepetto telling Pinocchio a bedtime story about Pinocchio’s grandfather, who was supposedly a kind tree. The next scene is “Starving In the Belly Of the Whale” and has Gepetto, Figaro, and Cleo very hungry inside Monstro and having dreams of food. Gepetto goes a bit crazy for a minute, and I can see why this scene was removed. The last scene is an alternate ending which has Pinocchio changing into a real boy on the beach just after the climactic battle instead of back at Gepetto’s workshop.

The Sweatbox (about 6 minutes) is a fascinating look at how Walt Disney and his animation staff innovated filmmaking by reviewing rough drafts of films in a room called the “sweatbox” (earning its name from lack of air conditioning). The process is still used today when creating movies. The featurette includes interviews with modern Disney animators recalling the process, as well a re-enactment of sorts of Walt and his animators in the sweatbox.

Gepettos Then and Now (about 11 minutes) starts out as a quaint look into modern-day toymakers who, like Gepetto, fascinate children’s imaginations with their toys. About halfway through the featurette, though, the pace changes and turns into a commercial for current toys such as Ultimate Wall-E, I-Sobot, and Emotiv System. One of the modern-day Gepettos that was included in this feature, Cyril Hobbins, was also featured in an article of the premiere issue of Disney twenty-three magazine and was also interviewed on the D23 website.

Live-Action Reference (about 10 minutes) is a narrated peak at some of the live-action footage that the Disney Studio taped to give the animators an idea of how the film should be presented. Actors were hired to perform in temporary “sets,” and the animators would study that footage as they created the work for the film. This featurette does get a bit lengthy, but its content is fascinating and to see that footage so old is still preserved today (when it was just used for the animators’ reference) is remarkable.

Pinocchio Art Galleries have a hoopla of art pieces categorized into several groups. The organization of the art is helpful to choose what kind of piece you’d like to view, but (like most DVD art galleries), viewing all of the art in any given category at one time requires some going back-and-forth between menus. Nevertheless, the art galleries offer a wonderful look into the development of the film, particularly in the “Character Design” and “Background & Layout” areas of the gallery.

Publicity (about 5 minutes) includes three theatrical trailers for Pinocchio – one for its original 1940 release and others for its 1984 and 1992 re-releases.

Lastly, there’s a deleted song called “Honest John” (about 3 minutes). Sung by a group of males (I’m not sure which characters would have sang it in the movie, though), the song mostly describes the mischievous personality of Honest John, also known as Foul Fellow.

Although most of the bonus features were excellent, I was surprised that none of them talked about the inclusion of Figaro in the Pluto cartoons of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Indeed the same Figaro from Pinocchio, I’ve always been puzzled about how Figaro went from being Gepetto’s cat to Minnie Mouse’s cat in some of the later Disney cartoon shorts, an issue that I don’t think has been cleared up by Disney. Figaro even had three of his own shorts after playing a supporting role in Pluto cartoons.

Gepetto’s cat, Figaro, was featured as Minnie Mouse’s cat after Pinocchio, and that mystery is not covered on the new Pinocchio DVD set.
Additionally, Jiminy Cricket being featured as somewhat of a Disney symbol is also not covered. Aside from a mention in the audio commentary of Jiminy narrating the 1947 Disney film Fun and Fancy Free, nothing is gone into detail about the character’s further involvement in Disney works. Some of these include his roles in Wishes and SpectroMagic at Walt Disney World, appearing on The Mickey Mouse Club, hosting the I’m No Fool educational short series, playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and hosting several volumes of Disney’s Sing-Along Songs video tapes.

Jiminy Cricket is another Pinocchio character that went on to be featured in other Disney productions.


Disc one’s menus are themed to Gepetto’s workshop, which is presented in CGI animation on the main menu. Disc two is themed to the village where Gepetto and Pinocchio live, featuring the village streets and the theater. The viewer’s selection on the screen (on both discs) is indicated by two light blue squiggle brackets, which are sometimes difficult to see if the background is light, but most of the time are easy to identify.

Wrapping It Up

Although it’s definitely not the most smile-filled Disney movie, since its debut 70 years ago, Pinocchio has enchanted audiences with its likable characters, amazing animation, wonderful music, and meaningful lessons. As a follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (being the first Disney film to be made after it), Pinocchio had plenty of pressure on its shoulders when it was first released. That being said, it proved to the world that the hardworking staff and animators at the Walt Disney Studios were there to stay, able to produce multiple lasting and enduring films.

The new 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition of Pinocchio is up to par with past Platinum releases, featuring plenty of bonuses to please Disney fans. The audio commentary, making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and re-enactment of Walt Disney’s “sweatbox” routine are all the high points of the set and each offer a unique view into the creation of the film. After a ten year absence from stores, the excellent new Pinocchio set is a welcome addition for those who have anticipated its arrival.

How do I rank Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)

Very good movie + Brilliant bonus features =
· Aaaah!
· Blech
· Not good
· Good
· Very good
· Brilliant

Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD will most likely please: Disney Fans – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10)

By Blake; posted March 24, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" Extended Edition DVD Review

February 23, 2009

The international musical phenomenon of the decade concluded with a spectacular grand finale in October, but its DVD leaves room for improvement.

By Blake

Originally posted February 22, 2009.

Soundtrack release, movie release, international mania, DVD release with several bonuses, more mania, special edition DVD release with more bonuses, even more mania, sequel.

That’s been the pattern for both the first two High School Musical films, released in January 2006 and August 2007, respectively. As the third movie, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, makes its way through its release process, that pattern seems to be continuing yet again. The soundtrack was released on October 21, 2008, the movie was released (in theaters this time) on October 24, international mania followed, and now we’re up to the film’s DVD release. Although there’s definitely more mania ahead, I don’t know if we can expect a sequel or not. And as for another DVD release? Probably, especially when you look at the contents of the new DVD, which was released last Tuesday, February 17, 2009.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition DVD

Total approx. disc running time: About 180 minutes (about 3 hours) (includes bonus features)
Highlight of Disc: Feature film
Highlight Runner-Up: “Cast Goodbyes” featurette
First of all, the movie itself is sensational. All of the East High Wildcats return for thirds and are getting excited as the milestone events of their senior year approach, including the prom, graduation, and preparing their own musical (which the audience gets to see this time). All in the midst of this, each of them must decide where their future lies as they prepare for college, a concept that each of the six main characters Troy (Zac Efron), Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale), Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), Chad (Corbin Bleu), and Taylor (Monique Coleman) finds very pressuring and uncertain. Each of them is unsure whether to stick together or to follow their own individual desires, while at the same time staying true to themselves. Of course, there are a few cheesy moments, but overall the film deserves its spot on the silver screen as opposed to the television set format its two predecessors had. The music and dance sequences are on a more vast scale, the characters reach new heights in the depth of their personalities, and the emotion of the film is on an entirely different level than the two other High School Musical films. These components make Senior Year blossom into much more than the small Disney Channel franchise that High School Musical once was.

Zac Efron as Troy Bolton and Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical 3: Senior Year.


However, the great movie that’s also the show-stopping conclusion (for now, at least) to the High School Musical phenomenon arrives on DVD with no real excitement, not even on its two-disc Extended Edition. I gave in to the Extended Edition version, thinking I would be getting two discs’ worth of bonus features. However, just like with November’s release of Wall-E, I was tricked into believing something that wasn’t. Here, two discs means one disc for the movie with a few bonuses and one disc for the digital copy of the movie for your iPod, not two discs of material. With Wall-E, that was OK because in total it was a three-disc set (I was thinking there would be three discs of material, instead there were two). However, with High School Musical 3: Senior Year, the set is labeled as a two-disc compilation, and technically it is. Unfortunately for consumers, with the introduction of the DisneyFile digital copies, purchasing a DVD has now turned into a question of what we’re really buying. Which makes me uncertain as to whether next month’s release of Bolt will turn out the same way.

Anyway, the bottom line here is that there’s the regular, standard version of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, which includes one disc that features the movie and one bonus feature, and there’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition, which includes one disc that features the movie with slightly more bonus features and one disc for the digital copy of the movie.

Bonus Features

The one bonus feature that’s included on both versions is also the most worthwhile: “Cast Goodbyes” (about six minutes) is a featurette that includes interviews with the cast about not only their characters graduating from East High, but also on themselves graduating from High School Musical. Emotional and teary, I’m glad Disney included this in the set – it was definitely the highlight of the bonuses and to see how the performers of this wild phenomenon said goodbye to three years of their life was something really special.

Zac Efron (who plays Troy Bolton) and Vanessa Hudgens (who plays Gabriella Montez) on the set of High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
That’s the only bonus feature that the standard DVD offers, though the Extended Edition includes several other bonuses. Though to be called “Extended,” there’s nothing really added on to the movie itself at all. I was half-expecting a new musical number like the one that made High School Musical 2’s DVD “extended,” but here I suppose the word really means the inclusion of deleted scenes (which, played together, are about six minutes). All together there are eight deleted scenes, most of which seem too short to even consider being deleted at all. The most memorable, though, is one where Zeke asks Sharpay to the prom.

Continuing through the bonuses are additional bloopers (about three minutes), which are always a pleasurable inclusion.

Next is Disney’s Song Selection, which allows viewers to play all the songs in the film consecutively or by themselves. If you choose to play them all, they’ll total about forty-eight minutes. Personally I prefer to skip to my favorites instead of watching them all.

Lastly, under Backstage Disney, is the aforementioned Cast Goodbyes, as well as two additional featurettes focusing on the prom. The first, called “Night of Nights” (about seven minutes) mostly involves the rehearsals and hard work that went into the choreography of the “A Night to Remember” and “Can I Have This Dance” numbers. The second featurette is called “It’s All in the Dress” (about three minutes) and deals with the costume design of the prom dresses for Gabriella, Taylor, Kelsi, and Sharpay. When played together, these three featurettes offer about fifteen solid minutes of behind-the-scenes entertainment from several different areas of the film as a sort of mini-making-of that should please fans of the movie.

From left: Corbin Bleu as Chad, Monique Coleman as Taylor, Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella, and Zac Efron as Troy in the “Can I Have Dance” number from High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
The absence of more similar featurettes hint that another DVD release is on the way in the future, possibly with an additional disc of bonuses that would further continue these entertaining featurettes. We can hope for an audio commentary, too, though that’s unlikely. Another DVD release would certainly make sense, especially since the first two High School Musical films did exactly this, and it would follow the aforementioned cycle that appears to be patterning with these films. However, for the record, no announcement, confirmation, or declination of a future DVD version of High School Musical 3: Senior Year has been released by Disney.


The menus of the Extended Edition are themed to the East High yearbook, and with all of the pictures, “autographs,” and other items placed on the screen, it’s often difficult to see where your selection icon is. This is primarily the case with the bonus features sub-menu, where the underline that serves as your remote control selection is red, and the background is a different shade of red.

Wrapping It Up

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is probably a film that Disney fans or families that have kids in the elementary- and middle-school stage will be wanting to have on their shelves. If you want to know the truth, the smart thing would be to hold off about a year to see if another, more elaborate release of the film is coming. However, that decision to hold off is likely not to happen due to the impatient nature of today’s generation, including myself. For now, you’re better off with the standard, single-disc version of High School Musical 3: Senior Year. The two additional featurettes and deleted scenes included on the Extended Edition are nice, but I don’t think they justify purchasing the more expensive option, unless you really think you’re going to use to the iPod copy of the movie that’s also included on the Extended Edition. I’d advise the standard version – you’ll get the great movie, as well as the better bonus feature, for a reasonably low price, especially if buy it at a discount store like Wal-Mart or Target. Because High School Musical 3: Senior Year really is a special film, and this time it’s not the start of something new, but the end of something great.

How do I rank High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)
Very good movie + good bonus features =
  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition DVD will most likely please: Disney Fans – Musical Fans – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13) – Teenagers – Parents

By Blake; posted February 22, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Edition

February 21, 2009

Walt Disney’s most magical movie of all returns in a spectacular DVD set.

By Blake

Originally posted February 21, 2009.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Mary Poppins is the absolute best Disney movie ever made.

Walt Disney was very involved in the development of the film throughout its production, possibly more than any other movie, and his hard work definitely paid off in the final results of Mary Poppins. The irresistible characters, fantastic music, amazing story, and magically happy mood reflect this, as does its outlasting acclaim and success.

The only person to date to ever receive an Academy-Award for Best Actress in a Disney role, Julie Andrews plays the titular nanny who literally blows into London when Jane and Michael Banks request someone new to watch over them. With the help of the cheery Bert (Dick Van Dyke), Mary Poppins takes the children on an outing inside sidewalk chalk drawings, to a tea party on the ceiling, on a trip through the London rooftops, and several other magical adventures. Not only does Mary Poppins successfully fulfill her job as the Banks’ nanny, but she also willingly triumphs to mend the entire family’s relationship with one another.

Disney Legends Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman supplied the outstanding songs for the film, including the Academy-Award winning “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” as well as the wonderful “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Step in Time,” and many more. The hilarity that ensues in “I Love to Laugh” has to be the funniest scene Disney’s ever produced. And “Feed the Birds” definitely has to be the saddest.

The new 45th Anniversary Edition of the film is now available in stores, and offers two discs’ worth of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious bonuses that are just as surprising as the contents of Mary Poppins’ carpet bag: they keep coming and coming in a seemingly endless continuation of fun.

The DVD includes all of the bonus features that were included in the 40th Anniversary Edition of the film that was released in 2004. These range from stellar to so-so. The audio commentary is great – it features Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Sherman, and Karen Dotrice. We learn that Dotrice, who plays Jane Banks in the film, didn’t know that Dick Van Dyke played the old bank owner until she saw the end credits at the film’s premiere. For those that would rather watch the movie without a commentary but would still like to learn some trivia, a pop-up fun fact version is also offered. The lengthily wonderful making-of documentary reveals some of the many secrets that went into casting the actors and actresses and creating the special effects. There’s also a discussion featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and Richard Sherman reminiscing about the music of the movie. Disney’s Song Selection is also included and, even though I usually don’t bother to use it on other DVDs to watch all the songs consecutively, for this film I found it a welcome addition to the set. Other highlights of the DVD include the theatrical trailers for the movie, one of which includes Walt Disney proudly introducing the film to the public for the very first time.

Though the DVD has many stellar bonus features, there are others that were a bit mediocre for me. The art gallery features an expansive display of wonderful art pieces, though like most DVD galleries lacks an efficient navigational structure. The 2004 short film The Cat That Looked at a King features Julie Andrews returning in another P.L. Travers story. The park set of Mary Poppins was re-created for this short, and the adventure includes Andrews (possibly re-playing Mary Poppins herself, though that is indefinite) taking two children inside another sidewalk chalk drawing, this time to visit a troubled cartoon king who finds his relationship with his wife not as strong as it used to be. I don’t know whether to view this short as cheesy or magical – at times it’s just awkward, but it also has its share of Pixie Dust. Another not-so-great bonus feature included on this DVD set is “Movie Magic,” a quick featurette displaying some of the special effects (which were already covered in the full-blown making-of), but this time shows them with an annoyingly hip narrator. Groovy.

Fortunately, those are the only low points of the entire two-disc set of this marvelous film. All of the aforementioned features were included in the 2004 DVD version of Mary Poppins, so you’re probably wondering that with all of those features having already been released, there couldn’t possibly be anything left to include on the new DVD. In that case, you’d be wrong. The new 45th Anniversary Edition includes a very surprising look at the Broadway version of Mary Poppins. I had initially thought we might be getting a 15-minutes-maximum peek at the making of the show, so I was very pleasantly pleased when the featurette turned out to be over 45 minutes! It includes interviews with Thomas Schumacher (president of Walt Disney Theater Group), Ashley Brown (who plays Mary Poppins on Broadway, and soon in the U.S. tour), Gavin Lee (who plays Bert on Broadway, and soon in the U.S. tour), Richard Sherman (music writer for the film), George Stiles (composer for the Broadway show), Anthony Drewe (lyricist for the Broadway show), Bob Crowley (set designer for the Broadway show), and several other contributors who show us what it took to create all areas of the Broadway musical.

Also included is a full performance of “Step in Time” from the Mary Poppins on Broadway cast, as well as a free MP3 download of the song. An additional art gallery of Bob Crowley for the set design of the Broadway show is also included.

As far as menus go, the ones featured on this DVD are pretty easy to navigate, with the exception of the aforementioned art galleries. Everything else, though, is pleasing, with a small easy-to-identify icon indicating your selection on the screen. Disc one’s menus are themed to the skies of London, while disc two is themed to the Broadway show, with its various set designs.

There is no hardcopy DVD guide included in the case, which is unfortunate but easily overlooked. Additionally, there is no disc art on both discs, but instead just plain grey, much like the DreamWorks animated releases’ DVDs. However, the outstanding DVD bonuses more than make up for these minor negatives.

There’s not much not to like on the wonderful Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Edition two-disc DVD. It’s surprising that the movie is being released again on DVD without a simultaneous Blu-ray release, but since my family hasn’t purchased a Blu-ray player I’m not complaining. The amazing bonus features compliment the film excellently, providing hours of behind-the-scenes sneak peeks. If Disney’s only intention in re-releasing the film was to get viewers interested in the Mary Poppins musical on Broadway, it certainly worked in my case and definitely had me wanting to see the show. The new bonuses focusing on the Broadway show are great, and even might justify purchasing the movie again if you already own a previously-released copy. However, the obvious highlight of the entire DVD set is the magnificent film itself. One of Walt Disney’s greatest masterpieces, it shines with enough Pixie Dust, tears, songs, and laughs to illuminate filmmaking long after the movie was initially released.

How do I rank Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Edition DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

By Blake; posted February 21, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Channel Flippin’ – "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" Review

December 23, 2008

The Muppets’ renaissance to stardom continues with a much-needed breath of fresh air in their new Christmas special, “Letters to Santa.”

By Blake

Originally posted December 22, 2008.

It’s been a long time since I was completely content with a new Muppets production. The short new videos appearing lately on YouTube and on the new have been great, but if the Muppets are supposed to have really won audiences over by the time their new movie hits theaters in 2010, I knew it was going to take a lot more than short Internet clips to make viewers want more Muppets. The Studio DC specials that aired in August and October of this year did their job to get younger audiences interested in the Muppets, but were somewhat painful for longtime Muppet fans to watch.

Thankfully, Kermit and the crew were back to their classic flair and charm in the superb new Christmas special, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, which aired Wednesday, December 17, 2008 on NBC.

In the new special, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, the Great Gonzo, Pepe the King Prawn, and Rizzo the Rat are getting ready to embark on a tropical vacation for Christmas, but put their plans on hold when they accidentally forget to mail a letter to Santa written by Gonzo’s friend and neighbor Claire (played by Cory in the House’s Madison Pettis). Since it’s Christmas Eve and the post offices have closed for the holiday, the Muppet bunch decides that the only way that Claire’s Christmas wish can come true is if they deliver her letter to Santa personally. You can imagine the hilarity that comes from them as they make their way to the North Pole on a quest to find Santa.

It seems that every Muppet imaginable has come out of extinction to make an appearance in Letters to Santa. It actually reminded me a lot of the Muppet*Vision 3-D attraction at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure theme parks. The two productions’ plots are completely different, but it seemed like they were very similar in making sure that each Muppet character had their own bit of screen time, even if it was brief. We get a great short sampling into each character’s personality that I hope will be repeated in more force in the upcoming Muppet feature-length film. Sam the Eagle’s quick and random appearance was hysterical.

Even the lesser-known characters that have been absent for several years returned, including Kermit’s nephew Robin, Lew Zealand (with his boomerang fish), Beauregard the custodian, Crazy Harry, Bobo the Bear, and a few others. The only smaller characters that I didn’t spot were Sal Minella and Johnny Fiama, who I didn’t even notice were gone until I really thought about who was absent.

Muppet veteran Kirk Thatcher serves as director for Letters to Santa, and he has previously directed It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz and written Muppet Treasure Island, as well as episodes of Muppets Tonight and Dinosaurs.

Another Muppet favorite, Paul Williams, wrote the four original songs that appear in Letters to Santa. Williams first worked with the Muppets in a guest appearance on The Muppet Show, and later wrote the songs for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Muppet Movie, and The Muppets Christmas Carol. I’m not sure why, but it had somehow registered in my head that this new special wasn’t going to be a musical, so I was very pleasantly surprised when Kermit started singing the opening song, “Delivering Christmas,” which turned out to be my favorite of the new songs.

The writers of the special include Paul Williams, along with Saturday Night Live writers Hugh Fink, Scott Ganz, and Andrew Samson. They add mature, but definitely not inappropriate, jokes and gags that make the special appealing to any age group. Pepe and Rizzo especially seemed to be given extra care when being written for – they’re the center of many of the jokes and apply most of the comedic side of the special.

As with any Muppet production, celebrity cameos are around every corner in Letters to Santa. Embarrassingly, the only cameos I recognized were Madison Pettis, Whoopi Goldberg, and Nathan Lane. However, many other celebrities appeared that I didn’t recognize, including Jane Krakowski, Uma Thurman, and more.

Not too lengthy to prolong itself or its storyline, though not too short to leave us wanting much more, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa is honestly one of the best Muppet productions I’ve seen in years. Filled with all of the favorite Muppet characters and featuring a healthy balance of comedy with heartfelt emotions, there’s not much to criticize. And considering the relatively quick amount of time that it took to pull the special together, it’s amazing that it turned out the way it did. If this rate continues in the quality that the Muppets’ works are producing, then I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves – er, paws – for 2010.

How do I rank A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa will most likely please: Muppet Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Young Adults – Adults – Old Folks

If you missed A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, you can catch it again on Hulu through December 31, 2008. So hurry if you missed it or if you want to see it again!

By Blake; originally posted December 22, 2008. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – "Tinker Bell"

November 29, 2008

Every Disney fan’s nightmare has come true: Tinker Bell has spoken for the very first time.

By Blake

Originally posted November 29, 2008.

I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. The beloved and up-until-now silent fairy Tinker Bell, who first made her Disney debut in 1953’s Peter Pan and has become somewhat of a mascot for the entire Walt Disney Company, was bound to speak at some point. Not that she hasn’t truly spoken before. In fact, she’s been quite talkative for many years, though only Peter Pan could understand her. All of us regular humans only heard bell chimes. However, now that we’re shrinking down to Tink’s size and entering the world of fairies, we’re able to hear her speak for the first time.

It’s a pretty wild concept, and not one that I was pleased with when I initially found out about it. I’m still not 100% satisfied with Tinker Bell talking – it’s not that her actual voice (provided by Mae Whitman) displeased me, it’s just that I guess I was more happy with what I thought she would sound like instead.

The new direct-to-DVD animated CGI film Tinker Bell not only serves as our first glimpse to hear Tink speak, but it’s also the official kick-off of the new Disney Fairies franchise. The movie’s story takes place within the heart of Never Land, where a secret land called Pixie Hollow is nestled. Here, fairies prepare to change the seasons all over the world and bring joy to the many natural wonders of the Earth. Each fairy belongs to a unique group, each assigned a different job that they have to perform to get ready for the forthcoming season. When Tinker Bell arrives as a new fairy (brought to life by a young baby’s first laugh), she’s grouped as a tinker fairy. Tinker fairies are in charge of creating different gadgets and gizmos aplenty to help the production of changing seasons run more smoothly. However, Tink doesn’t enjoy being a tinker fairy, and takes it upon her to switch jobs, something unthinkable in the world of fairies, as each job is especially assigned to each fairy when they’re born.

Soon Tinker Bell makes new friends and longs to be like them. She tries each of their talents, including those of Silvermist the water fairy (voiced by Charlie’s Angels’ Lucy Liu), Iridessa the light fairy (voiced by That’s So Raven’s Raven-Symone), Fawn the animal fairy (voiced by America Ferrera, a.k.a. Ugly Betty), and Rosetta the garden fairy (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth from Broadway’s Wicked and the upcoming Disney film Rapunzel). Her friends try to help Tink use her talents and abilities to their best use, while other fairies, like Vidia ( voiced by Pamela Adlon) find Tink absolutely useless. Jesse McCartney even pops up a few times to voice somewhat of a crush for Tink.

Basically if you smashed together A Bug’s Life and The Little Mermaid and added Tinker Bell as the main character, this new self-titled movie about her is what you’d get. Everyone except her few select friends views Tink as an outcast because, although her intentions are pure to positively change Pixie Hollow, her efforts often end up in mishaps (like Flik). Additionally, because being a tinker fairy doesn’t seem to be working out for her, she feels like she needs to be part of another world, like Ariel. There’s even a “giant” bird that swoops down to attack her. Add in Heimlich acting as live bait and you’ve got it sealed.

However, even though A Bug’s Life and The Little Mermaid were both great films, Tinker Bell doesn’t come off as being that same kind of greatness. The way the characters split each other up into different social groups with some bullying others seemed a little too cliquey and more like the kind of material I’d see on an episode of Hannah Montana.

Although there were supposedly many different revisions of this film since its original conception and it’s been said that John Lasseter (who is executive producer here) saved the film immensely, it still didn’t achieve its prestigious quality that its trailers led audiences to believe it would be. I fully realize that I’m not the target audience that Disney had in mind when they were creating the movie. I’m sure little preschoolers and elementary-aged children will adore the film – lines to meet Tink and her friends at the Magic Kingdom have been reported to be several hours long – but the movie seemed to be along the same lines of other direct-to-DVD Disney movies for me.

It didn’t save the film entirely, but there was one particular scene in the film that really got me and just had Disney magic written all over it. It happened to be the last scene, and I don’t think it really would have worked out the same way unless I had watched the whole movie. Perhaps it was because the rest of the movie wasn’t so spectacular that this specific scene stood out to me, but it certainly had Pixie Dust all over it. Like I said, it didn’t save the film, but it sure did make for one hoopla of a finale.

Bonus Features

Magical Guide to Pixie Hollow (about 7 minutes) is a virtual tour of three different areas of Pixie Hollow. Narrated by Tinker Bell and Queen Clarion, the tour includes information about the setting of each area we’re “flying” through, as well as what different kinds of fairies work there. Although Tinker Bell states that the guide is temporarily unfinished, I expect that we’ll see a completed version of it sometime soon on the forthcoming Disney Fairies DVD’s.

Tinker Trainer (time varies) is a DVD-ROM game. I had never played a DVD-ROM game before this one because every time I try, I can never find out where to find the game on my computer. However, this time the DVD kindly gives specific instructions on where to find the game once you place it into your computer (instead of just saying “insert the disc into your computer to play”). I don’t know if all DVD-Rom games are like “Tinker Trainer,” but it was certainly an elaborate set of games that feature very brief film clips to go along with the instructions. Involved but a little complicated for very young children, this set of activities is mostly aimed at the 7-9 crowd. You go through several activities to learn how to become a tinker fairy, including counting items and constructing an object. I only earned 1500 out of 4500 points, but all players are given a code to use online at to receive special virtual “jewelry” at the end of the game.

Ever Wonder (about 4 minutes) is a somewhat cheesy short of sorts that features live-action footage with animated fairies. It shows how the fairies create their work without humans realizing it. Like the Tinker Bell movie itself, this short to me seemed mostly mediocre until the end, when one bit of Disney magic shined through.

“Fly To Your Heart” Music Video by Selena Gomez (about 3 minutes) shows the Wizards of Waverly Place actress/singer performing in a sunny flower garden, even flying (literally) through several verses.

Creating Pixie Hollow (about 10 minutes) is a look at how the animators initially looked to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan play, Walt Disney’s Peter Pan film, and mostly nature to create the setting for Tinker Bell, Pixie Hollow. Featuring interviews with director Bradley Raymond, producer Jeannine Roussel, screenwriter Jeffrey Howard, and executive producer John Lasseter, a more full-blown making-of might have been a nice and more elaborate way to show how this first Fairies film was made, but I suppose this brief look is satisfactory for now.

Deleted Scenes (about 13 minutes) show 6 sequences that were unused in the final version of the movie. The first 2 are fully animated, while the rest are storyboard sketches. With optional introductions by director Bradley Raymond and producer Jeannine Roussel, I could see why they were deleted. I especially enjoyed the first 2, however, in which the fairies receive their Pixie Dust from Queen Clarion instead of Terrence and the other being an extended version of the final scene.

Wrapping It Up
I was somewhat scared to review Tinker Bell because I knew once I introduced myself to this new version of the timeless Disney fairy I wouldn’t be able to look at her previous performances the same way again. That’s probably true, but I suppose the final results weren’t as frightening as I had anticipated. Am I wild about the idea that Tinker Bell is now freely speaking just as much as any other character? Not really. But if Disney is going to go ahead and create a full series about her (which they are), then I’m glad that John Lasseter is there to oversee it and bring some extra quality to the production.

This first movie itself isn’t really anything to go nuts about – it’s charming, but nothing really made me say “Wow” until the last few minutes where the Pixie Dust really worked its cinematic magic. But that’s just the thing. This movie wasn’t intended to make me happy. It was created to make young children happy, and I certainly think it will do its job where that’s concerned.

However, I don’t know if Disney is going about the right way in the strategies they’re taking to make this Fairies franchise work to its best potential. Its other franchises (such as Disney Princesses, Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars, and many others) were made into full franchises after their initial films took off and became surprise, underestimated hits. If each of the Disney animated classics involving princesses were made with the thought in mind that they would all evolve into some great franchise, I don’t think they would be the same. Each of them was created individually and only after many years later did Disney realize they could create a franchise out if them. Additionally, with the Pirates and Cars movies, it was only until after the first films took off that Disney decided to push forward with more theatrical and theme park involvement with those series.

With the Fairies, it’s different. Instead of taking it one step at a time, it seems like Disney is saying “Meet the Disney Fairies. We’re not waiting for you to make up your mind as to whether or not you like them, we’re just going forward with a full-blown four-movie series and various theme park and consumer products promotions and you’re going to like it.” I’m not sure how the public will react at these Fairies suddenly being thrust full-force in their faces. It seems to be working right now, but will consumers get sick of them after a while?

Anyway, without getting ahead of myself, Tinker Bell will most likely please its intended target audience of 2 through 10-year-old girls but probably not anyone else, which is just fine for the time being. Like I previously stated, it wasn’t until the last scene that I really saw some Disney magic in use and I think that that same kind of effect could have been utilized throughout the rest of the film. The bonus features are somewhat substantial, and will again please the film’s intended audience. I’m just still not sure how I feel about the Disney Fairies very suddenly being in the spotlight and Tinker Bell finally talking. I just hope Dopey isn’t next.

How do I rank Tinker Bell? (Bolded is my choice.)
Not good movie + Good bonus features =
  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Tinker Bell will most likely please: Toddlers (ages 1-2) – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-8) – Older Kids (ages 9-10)

By Blake; originally posted November 29, 2008. All images (C) Disney.

Silver Screen Review – Bolt

November 26, 2008

Hold your breath – ‘Bolt’ could turn out to be something really special.

By Blake

Originally posted November 26, 2008.

It’s been a pretty rough patch of time for the past few years at Walt Disney Feature Animation, and Bolt is honestly the first time since Lilo & Stitch that I really saw a quality combination of story, characters, and entertainment wrapped up into one superb Disney animated film.

Let’s just take a look at some of the films that have been cranked out of the Studio since 2002: Treasure Planet carried too much prestige and dignity to be well accepted. Brother Bear held plenty of emotional strength but relied too much on individual characters to perform certain jobs – some to carry the story forward, others just for comedic enjoyment – instead of an entertaining combination between the two. I never saw Home on the Range, but based on the fact that I’ve never heard anything about it since its original release, I’ll take it that it wasn’t too good. Chicken Little was a little improvement, though maybe relied too heavily on comedy. Meet the Robinsons was yet again a slight increase towards a more quality production but was just about the opposite of Chicken Little – it had lots of heart, but lacked real comedy and thrust too many characters at the audience at one time, not allowing them to digest each of them before another one was introduced.

For the first all-Disney animated movie to be chiefly created since Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006, Bolt promised plenty of potential to show audiences just what effect the $7.6 billion purchase could do for Disney. Some of the many changes Pixar executives made to Bolt include a director swap, a name change (the film was originally to be called American Dog), some character revises (the cat was initially going to be an eye-patched pirate of sorts), and several other alterations. I certainly am curious to see just how different the movie would have been had these changes not been made, but I think overall the movie works very well as it is now.

The plot focuses on Bolt, a canine Hollywood star who headlines a hit weekly television series. Though there’s just one problem: Bolt doesn’t know he’s on a TV show. Thinking his owner, Penny, is in real danger when her character on the TV show is kidnapped by a villain, Bolt breaks out of the Hollywood set to go find her. Mistakenly, he winds up being shipped to New York, where he’s going to need some big time help – and a hoopla of luck – to find his way back home.

Something that Bolt had that I hadn’t seen in a long time was such a powerful reliance on strong characters. Mainly we only spend time with four chief characters, resulting in each of them getting to be developed extremely well since they don’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. The title character Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) heralds back to when the delusional Buzz Lightyear thought he was a space ranger, as Bolt gallivants around the country thinking he’s a super dog. Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus – a HUGELY clever move on Disney’s part) is very concerned about her lost dog and will do anything she can to get him back. She also, like Lilo, has a vast photo collection of pictures she’s taken herself of her and Bolt on their many adventures. Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman) is a rogue alley cat who Bolt mistakes for a television villain, and enlists her to help him find Penny. Rhino the hamster (voiced by Mark Walton) is definitely the crowd favorite, and is Bolt’s biggest fan. Having watched Bolt’s show on TV, he’s ecstatic at the opportunity to join the star on his cross-country search to find Penny.

Like I previously stated, each character gets lots of screen time and has plenty of opportunities for the audience to see many different levels of their personalities. Each of them becomes a dynamic character (meaning that they change emotionally) by the time the movie ends and we certainly feel that emotion. Being a dog owner and having lost my dog before, I could feel Penny’s pain as she longed to see Bolt again, and I just felt each character’s emotions in a way that I hadn’t seen in a Disney movie in a long while. Remember when Stitch felt like an ugly duckling that didn’t belong? That’s the kind of power we see here with the characters.

Not only is emotion involved into Bolt, but comedy is also equally taken into account. I don’t know if I’d agree with billing the film as a full comedy as Disney’s currently doing, but it certainly delivered its fair share of laughs. Aimed to mostly please the younger set, I think the jokes came across as successful: there were plenty of high-pitched giggles all throughout the audience. Several particular instances come to mind when thinking of the comedy side of Bolt, but of course I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the surprises for you.

Bolt is certainly something to get excited about. For the first time in six years, a non-Pixar Disney movie has produced a quality, well-rounded entertainment experience. Colorful character personalities wrapped up in an engaging and solid story are balanced beautifully to create a wonderful film. I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

How do I rank Bolt? (Bolded is my choice.)
  • Utterly repulsive
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Bolt will most likely please: Disney Fans – Dog Owners – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-8) – Older Kids (ages 9-10)

By Blake; originally posted November 26, 2008. All images (C) Disney.