Tokyo Disney Resort 30th Anniversary “The Best” Blu-ray Set

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I hadn’t planned on doing a blog post about the 4-disc Tokyo Disney Resort “The Best” Blu-ray Collection (also available on DVD) I purchased when we were in Japan, but enough of you asked about it that I decided to include it in the vote for “Wildcard Wednesday,” and sure enough, it won.

The name pretty much describes what the set is, but here’s a little more info. This is a 4-disc Blu-ray collection of shows and parades shot throughout Tokyo Disney Resort’s history. There are no ride-through videos of attractions, TV specials, or anything of that sort. Just official footage shot of these full shows and parades. The discs are organized by season, plus other stuff that doesn’t really fit elsewhere. Parades and shows may not seem like much, but fortunately, Tokyo Disney Resort rotates their parades and shows regularly. I suspect the 4 parks of Walt Disney World have gone through fewer shows and parades in 40+ years than Tokyo Disney Resort has gone through for 2 parks in 30 years, but that’s just a guess.

We’ll review the set and tell you where you can buy it below, but let’s start with exactly what’s included on each of the Blu-ray discs… (more…)

Disney Infinity Review

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Disney Infinity is a free roaming, toy-based video game that allows players to explore the Disney universe with their favorite characters. This review of Disney Infinity covers the Starter Pack, which is available for the Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii U. The starter pack costs $75, with additional character toys, power discs, and play packs costing around $10 to $35. Disney Infinity is unquestionably Disney’s biggest video game franchise to date, and the company has invested significantly into the promotional push to get people excited about the game.

The stakes are high: success could dethrone Skylanders, Activision’s $1.5 billion franchise, as the leader in this genre. Failure could be yet another black eye for Disney Interactive, one of Disney’s few underperforming business units that has hemorrhaged hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. I’ll be honest, before seeing and hearing more about it at the Disney D23 Expo, I was not at all enthusiastic for Disney Infinity. That piqued my curiosity, but I still doubted its gameplay. It seemed like something geared towards collectors and kids as a way to sell toys; I figured the game probably wouldn’t have a whole lot of substance or merit. In order for it to be a success, both the toys and the gameplay needed to be solid.

Before digging into whether Disney Infinity accomplishes that, I’ll start by addressing Skylanders. I’ve heard a lot of people call Disney Infinity a “Skylanders rip-off.” There’s little doubt that the folks at Disney Interactive saw the success of Skylanders, looked at Disney’s vast library of intellectual property, and thought maybe Disney could do something in the style of Skylanders. Who cares? It’s not like we look at the first film in a genre as the only legitimate entry into the film canon. It’s not as if the zombie genre died after Night of the Living Dead. It’s not like medical dramas became off limits after Dr. KildareThe point is that Skylanders established a new type of gaming, and Disney Infinity probably won’t be the last game of the sort to follow in its footsteps. Disney can combine the characters of just about anyone’s childhood (try to find a person alive today that didn’t grow up on Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney animation…or The Lone Ranger for the older folks) with creative tools to let them play and build in those environments, giving Disney’s entry into this type of gaming a lot of appeal.

The only thing I care about is whether Disney Infinity is a good game or a bland cash grab? (more…)

The Muppet Movie Blu-ray Review

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The Muppet Movie “The Original Classic” – Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray + Digital Copy) comes out right as Muppet Fever is heating up again (did it ever cool down?) as audiences anxiously await next year’s Muppets Most Wanted (after seeing an extended sequence from the upcoming film at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo, my faith has been restored that this movie will be hilarious). Of course, as the subtitle, “The Original Classic,” implies, this is the Muppets’ film that catapulted the successful television show onto the big screen, and really turned the Muppets into the powerhouse franchise that it is today with subsequent films, an animated television show, theme park attractions, and even webisodes.

There’s a reason The Muppet Movie was such a resounding success. It’s really good. Not only is it really good, but it has numerous memorable scenes, one of which, Kermit performing “Rainbow Connection,” many will count as one of the most memorable and touching cinematic songs of all time. The plot of The Muppet Movie centers around Kermit the Frog and his cross-country voyage to California, as he attempts to make it big in Hollywood. Along the way he attempts to avoid becoming the spokesfrog for a fried frog leg restaurant, and he picks up the rest of the Muppet gang to join him for some misadventures.

Any Muppet fan knows that it’s more about the journey than it is about the destination, and the plot is simply a loose vehicle for the Muppets to share their unique brand of humor. In terms of humor, The Muppet Movie shines. Those who joined Muppet-fandom with the 2011 The Muppets may not find themselves laughing at every scene, as the brand of humor has changed a bit over the years (it was a bit more dry back in the day), but it’s more or less the same. With few exceptions, The Muppet Movie has aged well, and will be enjoyed by anyone who is a fan of the contemporary Muppets. While I don’t love this film as much as I love The Muppet Christmas Carol, it’s still great. Of course, the Muppets’ quirky humor isn’t for everyone, so people who don’t enjoy fun, laughter, and happiness may be disappointed by The Muppet Movie. (more…)

Disney’s Planes Review

Disney's Planes Movie Review

Going into it, I really wanted to hate Disney’s Planes. It’s a DisneyToon Studios release of a film set in the “Pixar Universe,” and it was clearly pitched as a way to sell merchandise. It was originally a direct-to-video title that was bumped to a theater release (I assumed) as a way to sell even more merchandise.

After only the first 10 minutes of Planes, I began to think that maybe merchandising wasn’t the only reason that it was bumped to a theatrical release. While “Planes” was not a great movie, I did not hate it. For what it is, and given my very low expectations, I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a very formulaic story with minimal character development, but it never really misfires or becomes outlandish a la Cars 2. It’s simply a cute story that progresses exactly how you expect it to progress (with a few sly nods to classic aviation films).

My real complaint with regard to the story is that not enough time was spent fleshing out the characters and certain plot points. A couple of characters do make an impact, but the remainder just rest on tropes about certain nationalities. The plot similarly does the bare minimum to explain the why of where it’s going next; it’s very easy to understand, but there are a few points where the rationale for certain actions could be expanded upon just a bit to make it more cogent.  (more…)

Dream It! Do It! Marty Sklar Book Review

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Dream It! Do It! My Half Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms is Walt Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar’s long-awaited autobiography detailing his 50-some years working with Walt Disney, and being a part of every single Disney theme park that opened after Disneyland. His resume alone should make buying this book a no-brainer for most Disney fans, but this review will take a look at the book anyway just to see how Sklar did in telling his tales.

Right from the Introductions, one pulled from a 1991 piece by Ray Bradbury and another loving one from Richard Sherman containing an ode to Marty Sklar set to the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the reader knows they’re going to be in for a fun ride. Mr. Sklar’s book delivers on those expectations, and with each post-Walt chapter, the title becomes more engrossing.

Dream It! Do It! doesn’t start out this engrossing. The writing in the first 50 or so pages is a bit uneven. It’s interesting reading about Mr. Sklar’s upbringing and early years with Disney, and even the little anecdotes like his parents’ affinity for contests helps inform the reader more about what makes Marty tick. However, the topics bounce around, some without any resolution or explanation as to why they’re included. The issue partly seems to stem from Mr. Sklar’s juggling act of telling stories about both himself and Walt Disney in the early pages of the book. Obviously Walt Disney is going to bear some mentions in any autobiography from those with whom he worked, but some of Mr. Sklar’s anecdotes about Walt would seem more at home in a Walt Disney biography. I understand that the general public is probably much more interested in Walt Disney than Marty Sklar so this might help it sell, but Marty Sklar is very interesting man, too, as the subsequent chapters of the book demonstrate.

The Walt anecdotes are fun, to be sure, and they are frank. Walt’s anger over Henry Ford’s reaction to a pitch, among other stories, are presented without an attempt at carefully cultivating a certain image of Walt Disney. Fans are no doubt aware that authors of biographies on Disney artists Rolly Crump and Ward Kimball have elected to release their titles outside of The Walt Disney Company’s publishing arm to preclude Disney from having editorial control. Marty Sklar’s book is published by Disney Editions, and he seemed to hold nothing back. There are certain details about Walt the man, Imagineering, and the Company that I wouldn’t expect to find in Disney’s “official” version of its history. Mr. Sklar’s dislike of Dick Nunis is quite clear, and he makes no effort to sugarcoat that or his opinions of Paul Pressler or Peter Rummell. He also doesn’t hide his fondness for Dick Cook, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Matt Ouimet, all of whom have been fired from or forced out of The Walt Disney Company. There’s certainly nothing scandalous or offensive in the book–just the types of stories that show Walt and the people who have run The Walt Disney Company as real people, instead of painting them as the “Patron Saints of Magic & Dreams.”

Once Mr. Sklar’s career with Disney starts to take off, the book does as well, and here is where the author really finds his groove. His early days at Disneyland begin this portion of the book, and while his Disneyland days are intriguing, it’s the chapter on the New York World’s Fair that really grabbed my attention. From that point on, I couldn’t put Dream It! Do It! down. The chapters on the initial design and construction of Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center are equally interesting, and I recognized a few of the stories in these sections from panels Mr. Sklar has done at various D23 events over the years. It’s great to see these finally memorialized in writing for a wider audience to enjoy, because some of these stories are great.  (more…)

The Lone Ranger Review

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Disney’s 2013 summer blockbuster, The Lone Ranger, tries to be a lot of things and fails at each and every one of them. It’s not a serious Western. It’s not a mindless action movie. It’s not a spoof. It’s not a comedy. The best way to describe it is as a bloated Pirates of the Caribbean 5, except set in the desert. Of course, that’s assuming Pirates of the Caribbean 5 won’t even be as much fun as the worst of its predecessors.

The Lone Ranger stars Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger as they reboot the classic franchise that was a staple of American entertainment from the 1930s to 1950s. Much has been made about this reboot and whether it would resonate with audiences so far removed from its heyday. We’ll never know the answer to that, as the possibility of the film resonating was undercut by the quality of the film. Equally contentious has been Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto. Regardless of whether Depp is a Native American, I don’t see much to take offense to here. Granted, Depp’s character comes across as not being the sharpest tool in the shed for most of the film, but he is vindicated at several points. Beyond that, he’s an equal to the Lone Ranger (if not the star of the film), rather than being his simple-minded errand boy, as he was on the show.

What’s ultimately disappointing about Depp’s character is that Tonto could have had more depth, but instead Depp just plays an adapted and less interesting version of Captain Jack Sparrow. At some times, Tonto is fun and his interactions with the Lone Ranger carry dull parts of the film. At more times, the Tonto shtick stalls the film with stillborn jokes or cringe-inducing dialogue. By contrast, Armie Hammer is mostly strong in the role of the Lone Ranger (when he’s not forced to deliver tired jokes) and he does well with the squeaky clean image. William Fichtner steals the show as Butch Cavendish, the “bad guy” cannibal-bandit who makes audiences squirm with his every appearance. All in all, there’s really nothing wrong with the casting or characters beyond the treatment of Tonto, and even that isn’t terrible.

As for the movie itself, it’s all over the place. I’m convinced that somewhere beneath the mess, there’s a decent film. Unfortunately, what’s there now alternates back and forth between serious drama, attempts at cheap laughs, self-reference and parody, intense violence, and action sequences–all of which are framed by a wholly unnecessary Wild West side-show flashback (presumably a nod to the radio version–but it just doesn’t work). (more…)