Saturday, February 4, 2012

Odd Disney World: Mondo / Alamo Drafthouse Disney Posters

On the totem pole of things that are important to studios, movie poster art comes somewhere between the square footage of the fourth tier star's trailer and how many assistants the seventeenth producer is budgeted to have. I know that marketing departments work very hard to try to create posters that sell tickets. But that in and of itself is part of the problem. The best posters come from artists trying to capture the spirit of the film in one visual statement. I think that the art of the movie poster is being lost and it's very sad. Every once in a while we stumble across a striking poster (I am a fan of the poster for The Help over the summer and Disney gave us quite a doozy with the mostly wordless Winnie the Pooh and friends sailing on a sea of honey art), but by and large they feel assembled by committee, photoshopped within an inch of their lives and then plastered liberally in an desperate effort to prove that quantity will always trump quality. (Marketing exec: "Right? RIGHT?!?!") The approach to promotional art tends towards the very literal, the lazy under the guise of "artful vagueness", or bold fonts and big photos of the stars.

I read Entertainment Weekly's website daily. They do a great job of covering the big stuff, uncovering little niblets of random awesomeness, and using writers who feel like they have a personality instead of being journalistic info-bots regurgitating information that the sponsors paid to have fed to the public. On their page the other day was an article about the latest movie poster by a design house called Mondo. It was so visually striking that it actually made me want to see former Mousketeer Ryan Gosling's movie, Drive after months of not caring a lick. The write-up also mentioned that the company is an off-shoot of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain, which was elevated to hero status in my book for their strict no talking or texting during the movie policy. Check out this amazeballs commercial that they made. I still laugh every time I watch it. Bless them. (Warning: this video is not suitable for work or for little ears. Unless you work with tiny elves who swear like sailors. Then it's fine for both.)

The video went viral and, while there for a screening of their movie Young Adult, director Jason Reitman and actor Patton Oswalt, who was the voice of Ratatouille, made this companion piece. (Warning: still has wordy dirds.)

This all led me to go to the Mondo website and check out some of their other poster art. I promptly fell down a internet rabbit hole consisting of some of the most ingenious movie advertising artwork I had ever seen. Now, from what I can glean, these are not official movie posters, but rather artwork sanctioned by studios and used for runs at the Alamo Drafthouse and (rightly) sold to collectors as legitimate pieces of art. I was stunned. They are able to really get to the heartmeat of a movie in a very visceral way with just one single image. They make me want to go to movies I've never seen and make me look at ones that I have in a new light. Different artists are employed and they each bring their own unique talents to the projects. Stylistically they range from Art Deco and Nouveau to classic Hollywood to comic book to children's book illustrations, each using a specific style to highlight an aspect of the film being touted. Suffice it to say that it's very hard for me to pick a favorite. They are pretty much all impeccable.

Here is their take on some of the early animated classics. They are very youth-friendly without pandering to children with loud colors and/or insulting over-simplicity.

They've also taken a crack at some classic animated shorts. They all capture the time period of the twenties and thirties beautifully in their styling. They are playful, staying true to the Disney look while not being slavish to it.

Here is their only Pixar offering so far and it's for my personal favorite, Monsters Inc.! I love that there is a graphic simplicity that looks very modern but very classic at the same time, yet it is also packed with fantastic details, like the supporting characters on the bottom. (Tell me how long it took you to spot Randall. Wait, really? That's all? Well, now I feel dumb...) It also manages to perfectly capture the dynamic between worry-wart Mike, care-free Sully and astonished Boo in an instant.

Here we have Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It's amazing to me that they can give two films as different as this and Monster Inc. artwork that looks like it could be part of a related series while still retaining their own individuality. Great, great artistry on display here.

Here is their first and only (for now) Studio Ghibli poster for My Neighbor Totoro. I haven't seen this film yet, but I will say that this makes me eager to get around to it.

ABC commissioned a series of pieces for their storybook centered TV show Once Upon A Time (which Tom and I have become big fans of, by the by). Each one represents on of the tales that intertwine throughout the series. In a very classic, clean, inventive and hand-crafted way they invoke the stories of (in the order they are shown below) Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. These look like they could be illustrative plates in a high-end edition of a book of fairy tales. I love them. Not to mention they pique my interest regarding characters that have yet to show up. Something to look forward to!

The first Disney film that they approached was Tron, which is fitting since most of their early offerings tends towards more science fiction movies and movies with cult followings, which are both groups Tron fits into comfortably. I love it. It evokes the original designs, adding a bit of a comic book sensibility and bursts of exciting color while depicting the thrill of the light cycle race scene.

When Tron: Legacy was released in theaters and both it and the original were released on Blu-ray, it gave Mondo an opportunity to revisit the films and it did so with two pairs of related posters. The first is a diptych, creating two halves of one whole and the second is strongly linked by it design and stylistic similarities. Both sets are rad.

Seeing this stuff makes me wonder why studios aren't lining up to get Mondo to do their actual poster art in droves. Disney itself is a bit hit-or-miss on the promotional artwork front, but is still more adventurous than many studios. Hopefully the fact that they have taken notice and given their blessing to Mondo bodes well for a bolder approach for them. My guess, though, is that it doesn't, unfortunately. We are just going to have to be satisfied for now that someone is lavishing this incredible artwork on the studio since they aren't doing it themselves. Can you imagine if they had let Mondo design their Diamond line covers? My heart would melt! I would even love to see what they would do with the less celebrated Disney titles and live action movies. I bet they would have a field day with back catalog films like Freaky Friday or Home on the Range and, if the studio widely used the art, it would show fans that the studio is investing in the aesthetic future of the company.

Do yourself a favor and take some time to explore their gallery of artwork. Their posters span blockbusters and indies, horror and family films, and they have almost certainly made one for a least a few of your favorites. The also have a store where you can purchase items such as prints and t-shirts for selected designs, including some with the Disney artwork. The prices are reasonable, especially for the limited edition prints that would look amazing framed. If you are looking to buy me a present, I am especially partial to "The Wise Little Hen" and "Steamboat Willie". Just putting that out there. Winky face. What are some of your faves? (Besides the Disney titles I love their posters for Trick'r'Treat and The Iron Giant among many, many others.) I'd love to hear what you think of their art and what you think about how Disney is currently doing with their own promotional art. Gimme a holler!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

One of Our Dinosaurs Isn't All That's Missing

As most of you know, I have been watching all of the Disney animated classics chronologically and writing blog entries for each one in my DATE Night series. Most of the entries consist of my own highly subjective opinions, but I like to throw some history into the mix as well to give myself and readers some context. It adds a bit of richness to know some history on the creation of the movies and how they were received at the time before I launch into talking about art and music and storytelling and what characters could possibly be read as gay. I try to avoid using Wikipedia if at all possible since it is not always the most reliable of primary sources, so one of the cornerstones of my research has been The Disney Films by Leonard Maltin.

Buy this book. Now.
I don't have enough wonderful things to say about this book. Maltin starts by summarizing Disney's early output leading up to its first feature film. Starting with Snow White, he spends a few pages discussing every movie that was produced by the studio, including credits, critical analysis, a synopsis, and lots of historical information. He gives well informed opinions (which I don't always agree with, but always get me thinking) about each feature, both animated and live-action. He uses the films as the backbone to create a narrative of the studio's history, which is exactly how it should be done for a movie studio. His writing style is accessible but also authoritative. It is a fantastic book and essential to any Disney collection.

But then, something strange happens. Starting after The Happiest Millionaire, the book switches formats. All of a sudden instead of separate sections for each movie, each is given a few paragraphs and strung together into one long chapter of sorts. He touches down for a moment on each film and then swiftly moves to the next, separating credits into a different area later and leaving you with the sinking feeling that you've just skimmed the surface of everything past about 1968. I know that you can guess what the before and after moment was. All of the movies that got the short shrift are those that Walt Disney himself was not directly involved in.

Walt's death was a polarizing event for the studio and it changed everything, both for the good and the bad (I talk much more about this in a guest blog entry I wrote for my friends at This Happy Place Blog), but I am perplexed by the notion that Monkeys Go Home! should have a rather comprehensive analysis bestowed upon it (though it mostly consists of gently ridiculing its very existence), while an unquestionably great film like Bedknobs & Broomsticks is relatively glossed over. Why should Sword in the Stone get a sizable chunk of coverage while the films of Disney's third golden age, which are much more influential and important, are globbed together? Sadly, the fourth and last edition of the book was published in 2000, meaning that it only spans through a preview of the upcoming Dinosaur and that there is a whole decade of Disney film history that has not been given Maltin's invaluable attention.

I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I think that we, as Disney fans, sometimes don't take the time to stop and be grateful for the fact that so much of the studio's work is meticulously preserved, catalogued and analyzed if you dig around just a bit. Our love runs so deep that we get frustrated by the things that remain out of our grasp. Maltin is one man who has done more for Walt Era Disney fans than almost anyone else in the world. Besides The Disney Films, he curated the incredible Walt Disney Treasures series, which got previously hard to find material into people's homes to enjoy on DVD. I can't begrudge him the fact that he chose to focus his energies on the studio's Walt era output because that's what was released during his childhood. It is what holds the most meaning and nostalgia for him.

Release him from the vault!
I love the older material. It makes me long for a period of time that I didn't experience firsthand and I would be terribly sad if I hadn't gotten the opportunity to see it for myself. Just ask Tom how many times we have watched the "Disneyland 10th Anniversary" special with Julie Reihms. Too many times to count. On all of our fingers and toes. We were lucky to have people like Maltin and Roy E. Disney (who was the driving force behind the True Life Adventure DVDs) fighting to get these films back out into the light of day. The fruits of their labor are younger folks like me who have been converted into ardent Disney fans who are apt to forgo that new action movie Blu-ray in favor of a Disney back-catalogue movie and who still patently await discs containing gems like the People & Places series, Ludwig Von Drake and The Horsemasters.

I'll watch anything with
Helen Hayes in it. Anything.
The problem becomes that there is an entire generation or two that has grown up without seeing their childhood revisited with the depth and care it deserves. Disney has done a pretty good job with releasing DVDs for a good chunk of the studio's films from the seventies, including live-action classics from the Jodie Foster and Kurt Russell canon and other assorted treats filled with hijinks and family-friendly silliness. Unfortunately, they have not been remastered, leaving them looking grainy, they are often pushed, pulled and chopped in order to fit screens in which they no longer need to fit, and there is often nary a special feature to be had. No commentaries, no retrospectives, and not even a trailer. (There are, of course, welcome exceptions such as the great interview with Jodie Foster on the Freaky Friday disc in which she discusses her Disney days.) Other films from this time have been neglected altogether, at least domestically, like One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, which was given a release overseas. Who doesn't want to see Helen Hayes traipsing about London in what the poster calls a "funky fossil frolic"?

The movies from when I was growing up in the eighties, a period before the advent of the DVD when home video was just becoming a thing, also have a spotty release history. Some of the DVD releases were through an agreement with a company called Anchor Bay and are now out of print and scarce. Once we hit the nineties, titles became available with more regularity, since home entertainment was becoming a cash cow. As far as the features are concerned, the vast majority are available, even if it is a chore to track them down. The issue here is in shoddy presentation. We are backed into a corner by the studio and forced to shell out money for discs that contain nothing but cruddy looking transfers of the movies that we love with an original trailer as a special feature if we're lucky. Commercials do not bonus features make, my fine folks. Sorry to break it to you, but y'all ain't foolin' no one. We buy them because we don't have any other choice, not because we know we'll be satisfied.

Snow White's never watched When Animals Attack.
The real holes are in the non-feature area. So much happened on television that has not seen the light of day. For a park fiend like me this is especially disheartening. I would love to have the episodes of the Wonderful World of Disney where the Osmonds visit Disneyland for the opening of The Haunted Mansion. Or where The Pirates of the Caribbean was unveiled. I would kill to have the later specials that cover Walt Disney World, the park of my (and many other's) childhood. With the Muppet renaissance in full bloom, would it have been so difficult to include "The Muppets at Disney World" on the upcoming Blu-ray release? What a great opportunity not only to make both Disney and Muppet fans happy, but for cross promotion as well. I know these items are locked in the vaults somewhere waiting to be set free. It makes me wonder what is keeping the studio from doing this when they know that they have an eager audience waiting for such material.

Triplet hijinks! Amazeballs!
This is where I am caught in a bit of a sticky wicket. I want Disney to keep making their films available and am thankful that they are genuinely making an effort to do so, but the way they are doing it makes it prohibitive for me to take a chance on something new. The Generations Collection, which are DVD on demand titles sold through Amazon, and the Disney Movie Club exclusives, which you have to commit to buy a certain number of DVDs per year at full price to have access to, sell for about twenty bucks a pop. Now, this means that when they release Back Home or Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon I'll be there with bells on and cash in hand. But that price point doesn't allow me to get adventurous and discover films that I've never seen. I can't spend my hard-earned dough on Fuzzbucket just because it looks interesting. The bare-bones, bad-transfer aspect of the discs do nothing to help spur me on. It's paying more and getting less and that's rarely an incentive to spend one's recession era cash unless they absolutely must.

I know that it's very hard to balance profitability with keeping the fans happy and giving them what they want, but, as much as I'd love to, I can't afford to reward Disney for throwing us crumbs and expecting us to lap them up so that they will throw us a few more. Rarely does it lead to them giving the films, and by extension us, the treatment that they deserve. I bought a Blu-ray player almost exclusively because Disney was only putting the good special features on that format. Then they have the gall to release Winnie the Pooh on Blu-ray with a meager slate of extras and release The Muppets so that the only way to get all of the extras is to buy a considerably more expensive version that includes a soundtrack download that any fan has already bought and a digital download that few ever use. Will I buy it? Yes. Will I feel good about buying it? Heck no. This, ladies and gentlemen, is pure greed, and we put up with it because we have no other choice. But I digress. That's a different blog entry.

What we need is someone who is advocating for this older, unreleased material, and period in Disney history, to be preserved in a fitting way. We need someone to do for the seventies and beyond what Leonard Maltin and Roy E. Disney did for the sixties and before. Someone who has clout and can steer the Disney in the direction of doing right by its historic back catalog. Someone who has both the access and the knowledge to continue the work of preserving the legacy of this studio's more recent past, which has been sadly neglected so far. Someone who can attack the project with the passion needed to make things happen. Now that Roy has passed and Maltin seems to have busied himself with other projects after the tragic dissolution of the Walt Disney Treasures line, the time is ripe for someone to step forward and take the lead filling in the historical gaps that the studio has left embarrassingly unattended.

After all it's a step in the right direction.
It's a step in the right direction after all.
I think that if they listen to the fans, Disney can use their deep catalog to their advantage. We don't ask for too much and the things that we ask for are not out of line. Transfers of the films that do not look like they were attacked by a sandpaper monster. A decent slate of bonus features when available. Just dig around a bit and give us original trailers or related TV programming. They don't necessarily have to be newly produced, but commentary tracks and interviews, however brief, are ridiculously appreciated. A steady release schedule so that we can feel like our support of the effort is not in vain. And a price point that makes it possible to be more of a completist and less selective. We want to spend our money with you, Disney. You just have to give us a reason to. Even if it's two or three of the above, it's better than what we are currently getting from you. The Generations Collection is a step in the right direction, if only they would put some real effort behind it.

Walt had the right idea on this front. He correctly felt that if you gave people something that they perceived as good value for their money, they would keep coming back willingly. He poured cash into his films and parks knowing that the money would come back to him ten fold, and it did when people felt like they got more than their money's worth. The problem now lies in people feeling like the prices rise, but the quality diminishes. This is a common denominator across many of the company's branches from the parks, to home entertainment, to feature films. I am less apt to have my wallet at the ready if I feel that I am more likely than not going to come away from the transaction feeling gypped and buyer's-remorseful. This is exactly the position I feel like I'm in with Disney. I no longer have faith that they will give me a product that is worth my money. I hope that they will and am often disappointed. When the trust is diminished, so is the brand loyalty, and with that so is the spending. Please, guys. Give us something that we can feel good about giving you our money for. It really is that simple.

I would love to hear thoughts from you guys on this. These are things that have been eating at me for a while. You know how much I love Disney and want to see them prosper, but I feel like they are getting in their own way and stepping on their most ardent fans in the process. What are some possible solutions to this dilemma? Is there anybody in the company (or otherwise) that you feel is trying to step up to the task? What would you most like to see finally get put on disc? Are you satisfied with the re-releases that Disney has been producing or do you feel like they should be putting a little more energy into them? Am I just being whiny, picky and ungrateful? What are your go-to sources for Disney historical information, especially relating to the seventies and beyond?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Room For One More

Where can I get this as wallpaper?
So, I dunno if you know this about me, but I have a fantastic fiance named Tom. (I know it's a bit late for this now, but I wonder if I should't have changed his name to protect him from a slew of admirers. Hands off, kiddos. He's mine.) Well, we went down to City Hall in NYC just last week and got a marriage license. (Yes, yes. That means I'm off the market, too. Try not to get too upset. We're open to being just friends with you.) We've been together for a bit over a year now. (He bought me a D23 membership for our one year anniversary. How awesome is that?!?!) I know that I have already told you about our Disney-related meet cute story, so I'm sure that you've been chomping at the bit to hear the engagement story, since, wouldn't you know it, it's Disney-centered as well. Since our wedding is in one week, on September 23rd, I thought that today would be the perfect day to do it.

From our first meeting, Tom and I got very close very quickly. You know that whole soulmate thing? The one we've all made fun of while sitting on our couches watching season five of Sex and the City and cursing our love lives? I found that in him, despite fifteen years of kvetching about how it would never happen. Pretty soon after we got together we started circling the idea of taking things to the next level and putting a ring on it. We talked about it in somewhat general terms and knew an engagement was on the horizon without nailing down when or how the question would actually be popped.

About six months after we met, we planned a trip down to Florida where Tom would meet the fam and we would make a lengthy detour down to Orlando and spend one day in each other four parks in Walt Disney World. Tom had not been down there for about a decade and I hadn't for almost a year myself, which is about 11 months too long, in my lil' ole opinion, so opportunity was ripe and our trip to Disneyland together two months after we met had gone so well that I knew that we would have a blast.

Sigh. So romantic.
Little did he know, bless his heart, that I had a bit of a surprise up my sneaky sleeve. Mama and I had been communicated on the DL about finding rings so I could propose to him while we were in WDW. After many clandestine phone calls and internet links passed back and forth, we decided on a lovely, simple silver band. It was one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it moments when Mama showed it to me. Seven months prior, I thought I would end up being alone forever, and yet, here I was, seeking out ring advice from my Mama.

The next step was deciding where in the parks I wanted to do the deed. The answer was pretty obvious. Both me and Tom's favorite attraction is The Haunted Mansion. Tom, who's a fantastic musician, loves to play the music from it on the piano and knows the narration by heart (as well as the unused Vincent Price narration from Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris). I know, I know. It's a bit macabre and weird to propose there unironically considering that we are both pretty much the opposite of goth. But we're also both odd ducks and so in the end it all makes sense.

Stretching Room + 60's =
Tom's dream come true.
Thanks, Shag.
Once that decision was made, then it was time to decide where exactly on the ride to do it. I thought of doing it in the Seance Room with Madame Leota overseeing the proceedings, but quickly decided against it. The scenarios I came up with for giving him a ring during the ride itself were not pretty. What if he gets excited or nervous and drops the ring into the abyss below the track? What if he can't hear or see what I'm trying to do? What if he gets annoyed that I'm interrupting the ride? I quickly ruled that out. Doing it in the queue seemed a little silly, too. Almost like an after thought. "My, this line is long. How to pass the time? Well, I guess I can ask you to marry me."

Then it dawned on me. The Stretching Room. Of course. It's Tom's favorite part of the ride. We even have one of the portraits hanging up in our room. More importantly, though, if he drops the ring we can just pick it up and move on through. The decision was made. The rings were ordered. The trip was planned. Tom suspected nothing save one night where he turned to me and asked, "Are you going to propose to me in front of Cinderella's Castle?" I told him of course not because that would be corny. It was a close call, but I didn't even have to lie to distract him from my ghoulish plan.

We headed down to Florida, where Tom met my awesome mama, my rad sister, and my crazy dad. He made a wonderful impression and a few days later, after I collected the rings and buried them in my luggage, we made our way from Tallahassee down to Orlando. (By the way, every time I say the name of the city, in my mind I sing it like the song from Book of Mormon.) Our first day was in Epcot and so it was easy for me not to get too nervous. I was busy listening to the dulcet tones of Judi Dench explain the history of human communication.

Can you spot the boxes? Tom didn't :)
The next day was the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom means Liberty Square. Liberty Square means the Haunted Mansion. And the Haunted Mansion means the moment was nigh. The morning was rainy and chilly. I was extra careful to slide the rings and their tell-tale boxes into my hoodie pockets when Tom's back was turned. They were still bulky and so I kept my hands in my pockets the whole morning as we drove to the TTC, took the Monorail over and waited in the rain for the gates to open. Luckily, since it's our fave, we headed straight in that direction first thing. I'm sure Tom noticed something was off with my energy, but probably thought that it was just because the rain rain rain was coming down down down.

I was nervous as the dickens while we made a beeline over and walked right up to the door. It was us and a small British family. They had an adorable little girl with them who kept on asking if there were really ghost in there with her cute little accent. She would jet out from behind her mom, knock on the door real quick-like, and then hide behind the mother's legs again asking if we were all going to turn into ghosts if we went inside. Finally, the door opened and we all went inside and then into the Stretching Room.

I know they smell a bit musty, but they need
a ride to the bachelor party. Please. Anyone?
I had decided that I wanted to wait until after the spiel was over so that a) we wouldn't intrude on other people's vacation with our big proposal production number and 2) so Tom would be able to enjoy the whole thing. After the room had stretched and the door that wasn't there slid open, Tom started to walk away. My heart leapt into my throat, I grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him back, and he looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. I got down on one knee, pulled the ring out of my left pocket (that was the one with his size 7 in it), and asked him to marry me.

The rings right after the proposal.
He had a scant moment to process it, but luckily that's all he needed. He said yes, I got up and gave him a kiss and said "Hurry, let's go before they close the door on us!" As we waited to board out Doom Buggy, Tom took the other ring and sealed the deal. I love the Haunted Mansion every time I ride it, but I must say, that was one special trip through. After we got off, we walked outside and the sun had broken through the clouds. The rain had stopped and the weather was absolutely lovely for the rest of the day. I could not have asked for things to have gone any differently. It was a series of perfect moments that I will remember forever.

Don't get any ideas, Tom Tom.
I was so surprised to find someone who fit so well with me, and the fact that he was as big a Disney geek as I was really sealed the deal. With a week until the wedding, and our immediate families soon descending on City Hall in NYC for a small ceremony, I can't help but thank whichever star I wished on that finally decided to listen to me when I said that I had room for one more in my life. That star sent me a mortal who was as foolish as I was. That day I took my loved one by the hand and we watched our step as we boarded the ride. I expect our lives together to be one heckuva swinging wake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winnie the Who?: Disney/Oscar Nod Related Musings

Well, the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. As I slowly came to and grabbed my iPad (no morning person am I unless next stop is a Disney park), I approached the slate of nominees with the same mix of glee (They better have done right by the ones I liked!), bewilderment (Dude...I've never even heard of that movie...), regret (my heavens, I will never see all of these movies before the awards), excitement (The thrill of competition! The anticipation of an industry's affirmation! The chance to see Emma Stone in another gorgeous gown!) and indifference (I can't get too excited because I will inevitably just be disappointed). When I nosed around a few different websites and finally found a readable list, I was overall quite happy with many of the things I saw. I figured I would share some of my Disney-adjacent thoughts with you.

Follow me, ladies. Your Oscars are this way.
First off, yay for The Help! With nominations for best picture, best actress (Viola Davis) and best supporting actress (Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain), my favorite movie of the year put in quite a strong showing. Compounded with the fact that it was one of the highest grossing movies of the year, especially if you take out all comic book movies, franchise tentpoles and sequels, the little literary adaptation that could has had a pretty spectacular year. Though I can say with almost certainty that it won't take home the top prize, the recognition is well-deserved for a movie that was a passion project from go with something to say that needed to be heard and the right people to say it. Though it's got an outside shot at a win, the nomination is the award in this instance.

Two of the best performances of the year.
Octavia Spencer should go ahead and clear off a space on her shelf next to her Golden Globe, because she's all but guaranteed the award, despite a strong, strong field, including her co-star Jessica Chastain, who was luminous if not as showy, and a rare nomination for a flat-out comedic performance by Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. (PS, with it's convoluted anywhere-from-five-to-ten best picture nominations system, they couldn't fill the one additional allowed slot with the funniest, highest grossing, best-reviewed comedy of the year? Come on...Bridesmaids deserved a nom. At least they gave it one in the best original screenplay category.) My girl Emma Stone has gotten no awards show love at all this season for her amazing work, but I guess she'll have to make do with being Hollywood's newest it girl instead. Ah well.

No words for her brilliance.
Viola Davis is fighting a bit more of an uphill battle, despite giving what is without a doubt the best performance by an actress in a film this year. It was not over-the-top because the role of a maid in the South during the sixties doesn't call for it to be. There are no prosthetics, carefully studied accents or mimicked gestures involved. There is no hoopla and no self-indulgence. Just powerful emotional truth. I have rarely seen a more lived-in, fully inhabited performance onscreen in my life. She works in a small, handcrafted way that does not reek of technique, though it is there. We see the performance instead of the effort behind it. She also manages to shoulder the weight of doing justice to a whole population of women whose stories have been more or less ignored by mainstream America so brilliantly that we should count ourselves lucky enough to have it captured to show future generations how we can grow from our past. The award should belong to her and many predict that it will come Oscar night.

Genetically engineered for an Oscar.
Viola is, however, up against her indomitable Doubt co-star, Meryl Streep for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Full disclosure- I have not yet seen The Iron Lady. I also have absolutely no question that Meryl is fantastic in it. She is probably the greatest actor I will ever see in my lifetime. When I see the movie, there is the probability that I will succumb to her prowess and walk away singing her praises. But, to be honest, even she seemed a little shocked, apologetic even, that she won the award over Viola at the Golden Globes. Since I cannot yet compare the performances head to head (and don't know when I will be able to, considering I have no desire to waste time or money on what is by all reports a pretty shoddy historical film about a political figure I am not a fan of, created by the folks who brought us *gag* Mamma Mia and anchored by a great leading lady), suffice it to say that I have a huge soft spot for Viola's performance and will be more than a bit crushed if she doesn't take that little gold guy home.

One glance at what they wear tells a story.
As far as where else The Help was snubbed, I am rather surprised that it didn't get a costume nod. Despite the fact that they usually favor big costume dramas, Sharen Davis' work here was superlative, beautifully evoking a very specific time and place while really informing the characters. All of the production design was stellar, but I'm afraid it was just to subtle to compete with the big guns who tend to populate these categories. I am not entirely shocked that Tate Taylor, the dreamboat who wrote and directed the film, wasn't recognized. He has kind of stayed just out of contention all awards season. His work here is great, no doubt, just not as great as other work this year. I am also sad that Thomas Newman's lovely score, which evoked his awesome work on Fried Green Tomatoes, wasn't given more attention. It does a wonderful job of giving the audience emotional cues without resorting to the expected orchestral swells and emphatic musical themes. Once again, I think the essential understated nature of the film did him no favors come awards time.

Sing it, Mary J.
The biggest injustice, in my opinion, was the lack of a nomination for best original song for "The Living Proof", sung by Mary J. Blige over the end credits. I honestly cannot imagine the emotional impact of that last sequence without this song. Viola Davis' stunning performance underscored by Thomas Newman's gorgeous score, transitioning into this punch-in-the-gut of a song with Mary J.'s I-know-where-I've-been vocal. I am physically unable to watch the last five minutes of this movie without becoming a sobbing mess of ugly cries. The song is essential structurally, thematically supportive, beautifully written, and emotionally moving. It's a total knockout, and, especially considering that the Academy only saw fit to give two nominations for best song, it's kind of insulting its name wasn't called after being shortlisted with thirty-eight other songs.

Yeah. I have a huge crush on Jim Parsons.
The best song category is a bit of a mystery. Only two nominees? Really? One is a song from Rio, which I haven't seen and the other is "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets, which is completely deserved while, sadly, it's only nomination. Personally, I think that the Muppets should have hosted the ceremony this year instead of *yawn* Billy Crystal and I also figured that "Life's a Happy Song" would be a more obvious pick, but that shows you how much I know. I don't pretend to understand how their jacked-up voting process works, but how do you only nominate two songs when the field has room for five? This seems unnecessarily cruel to me, especially when you have other eligible songs from The Muppets, Gnomio & Juliet, Albert Nobbs, and, especially Winnie the Pooh ( Not even Zooey Deschanel's great song?!? Come on!) that were outstanding and deserved nominations. I'm calling foul, Oscar gods! This is almost as dumb as when "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won over Dolly Parton's amazing song from Transamerica. Almost...

Since we brought up Pooh, we should address the pink Backson in the middle of the room, which is the other pertinent race to this blog- best animated feature. (Best animated short is filled with what seem like interesting, non-Disney entries, aside from "La Luna" which will be released alongside Pixar's upcoming Brave, but since this category is often more apt to feature more experimental pieces, it makes sense.) This is the first time since the award's inception in 2001 that there hasn't been a Disney film represented in the category (that is if you include Pixar and Studio Ghibli). Now this wouldn't bother me so much if the studio's only offering this year was the shiny but empty Cars 2, because, frankly, I don't think Pixar should be awarded just for being Pixar when they produce output that's on the subpar side of mediocre. Cars 2 is Pixar's worst offering by far and it is appropriate that it should break the winning streak that the studio has been on, winning the award every year since 2007 with Ratatouille. Sorry bout it.

If you guys are in search of your Oscar,
you're out of luck.
What really gets my goat is the fact the Winnie the Pooh has been shut out. Again. I know that it snuck into theaters over the summer with little fanfare and was completely overshadowed by the final Harry Potter movie (which also deserved better than it got in the noms). It was not a blockbuster, but was one of the best reviewed films of the year. It was beautifully done and really showcased what is special and timeless about Disney hand-drawn animation. Somehow, though pretty well-represented at the Annie Awards, none of the larger awards have been following suit, leading up to a big, fat goose egg in Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. I don't know whether the studio wasn't behind it enough, it was too small and sweet to stand out, or people didn't take it seriously and assumed it was only for toddlers, but its failure to be acknowledged as the artistic triumph that it is irks me to no end.

As it stands, we have one franchise movie (Puss In Boots), one sequel (Kung Fu Panda 2), one movie about a reptile given Hollywood cred by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski (Rango), and two foreign films that look lovely, and may very well be wonderful films, but that I've never heard of (A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, which was distributed by Disney in Spain). This is the first time I've ever not seen even one of the nominees in the category. (I'm not a critic remember. Just a bear of limited funds and many opinions.) Though I'm sure that these films have merit, I genuinely feel that Winnie the Pooh has gotten robbed this season and I have no idea how it happened.

Just cuz it's awesome.
These are just a few thoughts that barreled through my brain as the nominees unfurled. Otherwise, I must say that the list came with few major surprises and overall I am neither terribly surprised, disappointed or excited about any of the other categories. But just like pretty much everybody else, I'll be tuning in the night of the awards, either jumping for joy, screaming angrily at my TV while wondering why I subject myself to this every year, or being completely bored. Just another year at the races, y'all!

What did you guys think of the nominations this year? Is your rear end as chapped as mine about the complete shut-out of Winnie the Pooh? Did you feel like Cars 2 deserved a place in the ranks? How about the non-animated categories? Did you expect more of The Muppets? Are you as stoked about all of the recognition for The Help as I am? Any major snubs or glaring WTF moments that I missed? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Disney Collector's Lament

Still life with Disney books, Orange Birds,
Mary Blair, Oswald, Big Al, singamajigs,
headscratcher and Whatnot Muppets.
Tom and I have been watching a lot of Hoarders lately. We can’t help it. A marathon aired before the new season got started and we spent one of our precious days off together on the couch, consuming episode after episode ravenously. I think there is a unique combination of factors that has lead to our (and America’s) love of this show. We feel grateful that we are not like the people being documented, and yet we see tiny bits of ourselves reflected in them. We feel a sense of schadenfreude and at the same time are uplifted when progress is made. We cheer them on and judge them simultaneously. This show and others like it (Intervention, Heavy) fascinate me to absolutely no end.

This last marathon, however, has mostly served as a motivator to get me to take a look at my own clutter.  As Tom and I are preparing for our big move out of the NYC, I am taking a more critical look at my own (in)famous hoarding tendencies and trying to purge our apartment of detritus here and there so that we aren’t overwhelmed in a few months. The last thing we need is to be forced to move a pile of unnecessary junk across the country.

Duane Reade shopping bags have been filled with books that I am slowly admitting to myself that I will never get around to reading and so will soon stick the shelves of the Strand. (So long, Anna Karenina.) Trash bags full of clothes have been lugged to the local charity store. (Bye-bye vintage shirts from my high school Goodwill scavenging days.) Progress is being made, slowly but surely. It has been surprisingly easy to let go of stuff, which is nothing short of a miracle and a testament to my excitement surrounding the imminent move.

I have a predilection for park vinyl.
I see a lot of negotiation in the next couple of months as I try to whittle almost ten years of acquirements down to a manageable haul. Mostly, it will be the media that will be a bit of a challenge. I have hundreds of CDs, DVDs and books that I need to devise a plan for. In this digital age, the CDs should be a snap, right? Just rip them onto my computer, store them in the cloud and rid myself of the bulky discs. Unfortunately, I am an old fogey who, after losing my hard drive many times over the years, is leery of abandoning the piece of plastic where the information is tangibly stored. I am also a dork who enjoys having such things as artwork and liner notes.

The DVDs and books, however, can’t all be stored on a machine. I am a bit crushed under the weight of the fact that I will quite possibly not get around to reading every word and watching every frame, but I am a man who needs options. One day I might turn around and realize that I want nothing more than to watch that American Gladiators DVD or read that important gay novel from the seventies. I don’t know if I can deal with the regret knowing that I had them and got rid of them, especially when I got most of them used and dirt cheap while braving the labyrinthine jungles of used book and/or DVD and/or CD stores. Bargain shopping for this stuff is the closest I’ll ever get to participation in a sport and I could be a major league player.

Florence and Adele watch over
my Disney CDs.
Possibly above all else, I like the aesthetic value of spines lined up on a shelf. When you are invited to someone’s place for the first time, what is one of the first things you inevitably do? You take a glance at someone’s collections to glean information. It allows you to bond over your shared love of obscure cast albums, connect over your hilariously curated coffee table books, and strike up a conversation about your extensive selection of amazing TV shows on disc. And it gives me great joy to be able to say, “Yes! Of course you can borrow my copy of Hey Dude! I’m so glad that you love it too! Did you know season two is finally coming out soon?” It’s a way to instantly suss out what you have in common with someone else.

The problem in New York City has, of course, become a matter of space. I don’t have space for enough shelves to make everything I have easily accessible. My CDs used to have some semblance of alphabetization going on, but once their dedicated spaced was filled, they started to stack on the floor in an out-of-the-way corner. DVD genres are somewhat separated, with children’s movies and anything made before 1980 in an Ikea cabinet near the bathroom door and Christmas movies and music in the couch (which has storage space under the seats). The catch 22 is that though we will have more space wherever we move, getting all of this stuff there will be a trial. So downsizing is inevitable, with one very notable exception. Can you guess what is non-negotiable? That’s right. My Disney stuff.

Top two shelves are Disney.
Yeah. They're three deep.
As I have mentioned before, I am a little bit late to the Disney enthusiast game. Most of my accumulated Disneyana has been hunted and gathered over the course of the last two to three years. I have shelves dedicated to my Disney books, a few to my Disney DVDs and Blu-rays (with the fifty animated classics separated and in chronological order waiting patiently for my DATE Nights with them), and a space reserved for my Disney CDs. My small collection of Disney vinyl decorates a wall while other souvenirs, such as lanyards stocked with pins, selected plush and very, very selected Vinylmation dot the apartment here and there. I have been a very busy beaver.

It’s been both an exercise in frustration and exhilarating beyond belief to build my Disney collection. There are elusive items that have become hard to find at anywhere near a reasonable price, like the Dr. Syn Walt Disney Treasures DVD or Disneyland: The Nickel Tour. As much as I want to get my mitts on them, I cannot justify plunking down hundreds of dollars for the bragging rights of calling them mine. It’s all balanced, however, by the amazing feeling I get when I finally find a coveted piece, make that winning bid or click buy, see it beckoning to me from my doorstep after delivery. It’s an undeniable high when I rip through the packaging, revealing the Polly soundtrack or The Colors of Mary Blair Japanese exhibition book.

Animated classics on top, Walt Disney Treasures on
the bottom, Bullwhip Griffin on the telly.
Blu-rays out of frame.
Even the less momentous buys are always fun. Few things give me as much pleasure as flipping through a Disney Park souvenir book that I found for a dollar plus shipping on Amazon, laughing at the out-of-date clothing on display, dreaming about my next trip, and discovering the changes, both subtle and substantial, that are a part of the DNA of the ever-changing parks. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I won it for a buck on eBay, I would have never been privy to the soothing twang of Rex Allen’s Yellowstone Cubs narration. And I certainly would have never invested in music from Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus has it not been relegated to dollar bin at my favorite NYC used media joint (Book Off in midtown).

Our lanyards and pins.
As we take stock of what is making the journey from the Northeast with us, it is not even up for discussion whether my Disney stuff is coming along. Tom has contributed a few items to it himself, like our Art of Mulan book and what may be my favorite piece- a stretching portrait from the Haunted Mansion, an attraction that holds a very special place in our hearts. When he moved east from California, he left everything he couldn’t fit into a couple of suitcases behind. After giving away the majority of his possessions, I think he’s kind of excited to get some of them back through me. Not only does he know it wouldn’t be wise to try to get me to let go of the Disney, he wants to keep it within his own reach as well.

So why, you ask, will we be taking our own personal Disney mountain along with us? First and foremost, Disney makes us both blissfully happy. I found Tom soon after my interest in Disney took off. From our first date, one of the things we most connected over was our mutual love of all things created in the House of Mouse. He has seen me through the creation of this blog, which has become an important outlet for me. From our trips to the parks, to watching the films, to our times bantering in Kathryn Beaumont or Hayley Mills voices, Disney has been one of the constant threads in the tapestry of our shared life. It doesn’t define us, to be sure, but it’s a slice of our experience together that is precious to us.
The stretching room portrait
above Tom's keyboard.
This move is going to be huge for me. It will be the first time I have moved in almost nine years, when I moved to New York City from Tallahassee. Over that near decade I have (arguably) grown into an adult. Along with adulthood has come a bevy of things that have been heaped onto the two suitcases I arrived here with. For a long time these objects gave me a sense of consistency. They made me feel like I had laid claim to a space of my own where I belonged. Now that I’m married to the most amazing man in the world, anywhere that I go I know that I will feel loved unconditionally. As Barbra might say, “Any place I hang my hat is home.” As long as Tom is there, that is. I don’t need a plethora of possessions when what is essential will always be by my side. So as we look forward to a new beginning, we shed what weighs us down, keep close the things that bring us joy, and start our own mutual collection- of memories, experiences and things alike. No doubt, more than a few will involve Disney in some way or other. Let the memories begin.